Sunday, January 30, 2005

Shakin' Things Up

In the previous post, I wrote about cooking without salt. While the meals are not bad they are still a little a bland. So, I decided to “shake things up” and make my father in a law a nice . . . no, a great chef salad. It might have been the greatest chef salad ever made.

When building the greatest chef salad ever, one that is sure to shake things up, the container is critical. Searching through what we had I could not locate one I liked. Making a quick jaunt to the store, I found it. It held 6.3 cups and, because it was clear, wouldn’t hinder the “presentation” of the meal. It was perfect.

Next, you need a good base. My base was not to be iceberg lettuce. Oh no, I put together a blend of Romaine, red cabbage, baby spinach, spring greens, and butter lettuce. It looked good enough to eat right then, but we were just getting started. Celery, cucumber, avocado, and tomatoes were added. Then a touch of cheese and shredded turkey for flavor. There had to be eight cups of ingredients in a six-cup container but it was not done yet. It was topped off with a sliced hard-boiled egg and some shredded carrots, again, for presentation. This salad was guaranteed to give him a lot of flavor and shake things up. I took it to Vic with a great deal of pride and pleasure.

The next day I took Vic his meals. As soon as walked in the door he told me not to bring him a chef salad again. It seems like all those vegetables shook up the ‘internally workings’ of that eighty-six year old man every thirty minutes from three o’clock in the morning on.

If you need a 6.3 cup container, let me know.

Friday, January 28, 2005

An Everyday Happening

We all do things on a daily basis we take for granted. We brush our teeth, comb our hair or wish we had hair, wash our hands, and even reach for the saltshaker. I’ll never look at a saltshaker the same way again.

My father in law is back in rehabilitation. He is eighty-six, has congestive heart failure and other medical problems. Because of this, he is on an extremely strict diet. So strict that the rehabilitation people cannot, or will not, provide all his meals. So, we are taking him lunch and dinner daily. He cannot have any salt, only a little sugar, very small amounts of fat and minimal liquids. Talk about a cooking challenge! But, I am getting pretty good at cooking for him. The biggest issue is the salt. For him a lot of the cooking is with herbs and spices. Some of these creations taste good but I always find myself saying, “It needs salt”. My friend Cliff once said that everything tastes better if someone else cooks it. I hope so, because these dishes need something – salt to be specific.

Salt is to food what humor is to life. You can live without it - but why? Lately I have been dealing with many people who just don’t see humor in anything. They probably don’t use salt either.

So now, I find myself picking up a saltshaker, smiling, and thinking about my father in law. He might not be able to eat salt but he still has a sense of humor.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Decisions versus Choices

All I wanted for dinner was spaghetti. That started me pondering the question, is it the number of decisions we have to make or is it the number of choices we have that is adding stress to our lives? So, what’s the difference? A decision is defined as a conclusion or a judgment - I made a decision to have spaghetti for dinner. A choice is defined as an alternative or a number or variety from which to choose from – what type of sauce did I want. Here’s how it played out.

Home alone one night, I decided to have spaghetti for dinner, but we were out of sauce. Going to the store to get spaghetti sauce, I discovered there was a whole aisle to chose from, both brands and types. There were twenty-four brands each and every one made by a different company.

Then there are the types. I didn’t know there were so many ways to mess up spaghetti sauce! I immediately ruled out the white sauces, which reduced the number of shelves I had to look through. But there were still plenty to choose from; garden style, garden combination, garden sauce, garlic, garlic and herb, mushroom, chunky mushroom, olive oil and garlic, roasted red pepper, roasted red pepper with garlic, tomato and garlic, mushroom and green pepper, tomato with mushrooms and garlic, herbs and garlic, marinara, onion, sun dried tomato, mushroom and olive, spicy red pepper, sweet basil, vodka sauce, and vegetarian.

I didn’t see the “Traditional” sauce we usually buy but there were two sections left to check. Next, I entered the cheese section. There were additional choices; parmesan romano, cheese and garlic, three cheese, four cheese, six cheese, and Italian cheese. I left this section thinking if you want cheese add it to spaghetti after you have it covered with sauce.

I was losing hope but thought maybe, just maybe, it could be in the meat section. There they had meatball, sausage, Italian sausage, and one I never heard of called flavored with meat. If you’re going to flavor it with meat, why not eat the meat? Anyway, back to the search. There was meat, with real meat, and one with hearty meat. More questions – first, what type of “meat”, secondly, if one has real meat what is in the other one? Lastly, (and I really don’t want to know) what is hearty meat?

A store clerk took pity on me and asked if I was finding everything okay. I told her I was looking for traditional spaghetti sauce. She replied,”Oh, we quit carrying that one, it wasn’t a big seller”.

So what is it? Is it the number of decisions we have to make or the amount of choices we have which add stress to our lives? I don’t know. I went home empty handed and ate a grilled cheese. White bread, American cheese, I’m trying to simplify my life.

Sunday, January 23, 2005


Multi-tasking is the fine art if doing two or more things at the same time. Many people pride themselves on how well they can do this. I meet a person who took a lot of satisfaction in the fact that he could do two, and often times three, things at the same time. All I said was, “If none of those deserve your full attention why do them?” I don’t remember his answer but I did notice we didn’t get a Christmas card from him this past year. I’ve seen a person have a call on the office phone, one on the cell phone, trying to respond to an e-mail, while someone was setting in their office. They were trying to – what would that be – quad-tasking?

Now we are making appliances multi-task as well. My calculator died. Not an issue just get another one. I purchased one for under $20 and hooked it up. Not only does it do all the things a calculator is suppose to do but it can tell you the day, date, and time around the world. I don’t think I have ever balanced the checkbook while wondered what time it was in Sweden.

Friday, January 21, 2005

A Food ? Review

I had stopped at the gas station for a cup of coffee. Walking through the “snack bar”, it caught my eye - the nacho machine. There it sat in all its pride and glory taking up half the counter. It had chips in a plastic dish just waiting to be topped with plastic cheese. There were also jalapenos, I don’t think they were plastic but they had certainly seen better days. However, the most intriguing part was the sign that read, ‘Place nachos on tray and push here to top with our delicious, great tasting, chili.’

I bought my coffee and for the next few miles pondered the question, what kind of ‘delicious, great tasting, chili’ is squirted from a quarter inch plastic tube? I will never know.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Pot

When my friends sent me a Dutch Oven as a thank you gift I am sure they had no idea how it would affect my cooking style, life, and neighborhood. I had no idea how to cook in it. I called my friend Cliff who is the king when it comes to Dutch Ovens.

Finally, I was ready to make my first attempt at Dutch Oven cooking. Not wanting to fail small I bought the biggest chuck roast I could find. It was a little over five pounds. Along with the roast, I tossed in some stock, onions, a few carrots, and about five pounds of red potatoes. The wire rack strained as I placed it in the oven. Did I forget to mention I strained carrying it over? There was a lot of food, hopes, and expectations in that Dutch Oven.

Not knowing how it would come out, and not wanting to die alone, I invited the neighbors over for dinner. All four of them showed up for my experiment.

I have to admit it looked pretty good. Better yet, it tasted good. The dinner conversation took a few turns but for the most part centered on the Dutch Oven. When did you get it? How do you wash it? How heavy is it? All, I answered as if I really knew what I was talking about. I was just happy dinner came out good and we were all still alive. Somewhere along the way the Dutch Oven was nicknamed, ‘The Pot’. The name stuck.

Over the next few weeks, numerous recipes were tried. The Pot was getting a real workout and for the most part our neighbors were there trying my new creations.

One weekend I did a roast, mashed potatoes, and gravy. The neighbors came over and Gino, who is six, took one taste of the gravy and triumphantly raised his fork in the air and in a loud voice proclaimed, “All hail the pot! All hail the pot!” I was ready to raise my fork and chant along but didn’t want to interrupt his mother who was telling him that wasn’t polite. It might not be polite but it was a great review of dinner.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Common Phrases

Setting in a coffee shop, I was plowing through a mountain of reading material I had been putting off. The coffee shop was crowded but surprisingly quiet. Suddenly, a women at the table behind me said in a fairly loud voice, a phrase we have all heard before, ”Well, it’s funny now but it wasn’t at the time.” I had a flashback.

I was working ten-hour days, my wife, Charlene, was working eight-hour days. Because of this there was not hurrying or rushing around in the morning, we both had time and space to get ready for work.

One morning I kissed Charlene goodbye and left. Half way to work, I realized I had forgotten something.

Entering the house, I heard the shower running. I decided to ‘surprise’ Charlene with my unexpected visit. I went upstairs and stuck my hand around the end of the shower curtain. This started quite a scene. Water was flying every which way, shampoo and conditioner bottles were bouncing off the walls, the shower curtain got ripped down, and Charlene was screaming at the top of her lungs.

That happened twenty-four years ago. I think it is funny now. Maybe in a couple more years Charlene will too.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

A Home Based Business

I want to focus more on retirement rather than a second career. Yet, I recently discovered I am the sole proprietor of a home based business.

It started when my wife decided we needed a new sofa and love seat. Now, we have an understanding, I don’t tell her how to decorate and she doesn’t tell which me which vineyards to visits. It’s weird but it works for us. Anyway, over coffee I found out the new furniture is in. The conversation went somewhat like this.

“So what are we going to do with that furniture?” I asked pointing to the sofa and loveseat in the family room.
“Well, I think we will put it in the basement.”
“What! Why don’t we just get rid of them?”
“Well, there really isn’t anything wrong with them.”
“If there is nothing wrong why did we get new ones?”
“It sags in the middle,” she replied with a touch of frustration in her voice.
I immediately grabbed my stomach and stated I sag a little but didn’t want to be replace.

Silence. I’ll admit it; this made me a little nervous so I made a mental note to ride my bike more.

Foolishly, I continued, “We are running out of room in the basement”

Silence. I really need to ride that bike more. I went to the basement.

With the impending arrival of the sofa and loveseat I made a mental list of the what had accumulated there; two sofas, one love seat, a dining room table with chairs, a kitchen table with chairs, a roll-top desk, one double bed, a recliner, a hope chest (after 26 years she is still hoping), a folding table, and assorted throw rugs.

Next time you come to visit I’ll take you to the basement. You will see several signs in the stairwell – “Welcome to Ralph’s Near New Shop”, “Huge Inventory, Everything Must Go”, “No Interest or Payments till 2007”.

I’ve always wanted my own business.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

The Blog Father

“With those stories, you ought to start a blog site” my friend Cliff made that statement. That statement made me stare at the number of empty adult beverage containers we had accumulated on the kitchen table. I wondered if Cliff might have had a few before I got there. I had heard of bog sites – those are place you get vehicles stuck and, back east, grow cranberries. I had never heard of a blog.

Cliff explained it is internet site where you post your thoughts or stories. Yeah, a few people may read them but mainly it is something you do for fun. I mulled it over for quite some time. I have always enjoyed writing but truly don’t thing I am good at it. I am also leery about letting people read what I write. That goes back to all the English teachers I had. My English papers were always dripping with red ink. Cliff on the other hand has a natural talent. As his nephew, Marty, stated, “Cliff can read you a grocery list and have you laughing”. That is so true. Cliff is also the kind of person that if you aren’t friends with him it is only because you haven’t met him. Read a couple of his stories, you will quickly discover why we get along so well. So, you might want to access his site located in the links to the right. A couple of my favorites are ‘The Geese’ posted in January ’05 and ‘It’s Tradition’ it is located in the archive section under November 2004. After you read those, you might want to meet Cliff. If so, give me a call – I am always up for a road trip.

By the way, Cliff is the one responsible for getting me, Marty, and several other people in numerous states doing this. That’s why I call him, The Blog Father.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Weather Reports, Gas Gauges, and People

The morning weather report was not that bad - mostly cloudy and cold with highs in the mid 20s turning colder with snow showers late in the afternoon and evening. I decided to go to Fort Collins. Started the car the gas gauge read three quarters full.

At 9:30, it was snowing, so much for the accuracy of weather reports. A little after noon, the snowflakes were quite large and coming down pretty heavy. Several people had mentioned how slick the streets were getting so it was time to head back to Denver. I would drive slow and everything would be fine.

Heading south on I-25 the roads were icy but did not seem that bad at least until the car started to chug, sputter, and gradually slow down. Moving off the highway, I scanned the gauges. That is when the gas gauge drop from three quarters to past the dreaded ‘E’. I had run out of gas.

As soon as I was off the highway, I called the office and asked for Joe. Now, you may not know this about me, but when things are not going well I have very little tolerance for chit-chat, such as “How are the roads?” and “Where are you?” So, somewhat abruptly, I asked for Joe again. When Joe got on the phone, I explained the problem. There were no questions; there was no chit-chat. Just Joe saying, “I’ll take care of it. I’m on my way.” Joe is one those guys that means what he says. I could see him standing there with his coat in one hand waiting to hang up so he could get going. When its sixteen degrees, with strong winds, and snowing heavy you really appreciate guys like Joe.

I stayed outside the car making sure the snow did not cover up the flashers. Walking the length of the car on the shoulder between I-25 and the frontage road, I can truly say I discovered what cold was. But, Joe was on his way and doing so as fast as he could.

Amazing about fifteen people stopped to help. Several offered to take me to a gas station. One guy took off his stocking cap and offered it to me saying it would be a lot warm than my ball cap. Two offered to get gas and bring it back. One man offered up the rest of the coffee in his thermos. I accepted some in a slightly used paper cup that was rolling around the floor of his truck.

The day was full of lessons. Never trust weather reports. Never trust gas gauges. But, thanks to Joe and the people who stopped, I learned again that people, for the most part, are good.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Human Psyche

You can tell a lot about people by their shopping habits. In the grocery store, a woman was walking towards me carrying a dozen eggs with both hands. The eggs didn’t bother me but she was talking to herself. I had seen people talk to themselves before but not in the grocery store, dressed as well as she was, and in this section of town. I was a little concerned until I noticed her earpiece. She had a hands free microphone for her cell phone. Interesting, I thought.

The same lady was ahead of me in the checkout line. While the cashier rang up her eggs, she continued her cell phone conversation, using her hands free microphone. The cashier looked annoyed; I thought it was just rude.

As fate would have it, I followed her out of the store. Her car was in the same aisle; in fact, it was about two parking spaces away. I watched as she climbed into her expensive little sports car. Amazingly, right before she backed out she disconnected her hands free microphone. She had one hand on the phone and the other on the steering wheel. She was going to deal with rush hour traffic driving one handed.

So, what did I learn about this lady? She doesn’t mind crashing her car but she hates scrambled eggs.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Tabula Rasa

New Years Day, this is my favorite holiday. I guess it is because we have a clean slate, or as they say in Latin, Tabula Rasa. We have 365 days, 8,760 hours, or 525,600 minutes before the year, once again, comes to an end.

Granted there are many things that will happen within the days, hours, and minutes we have no control over. We have to deal with what is doled out to us, good or bad. However, we also have a great deal of time to use as we see fit.

Funny thing about New Years, I have never gotten into that resolution thing. I have seen to many people get discouraged when they cannot live up to their resolutions. Rather, I make a list of what I hope to accomplish. The list is never complicated, such as achieve world peace. It is things that will make me and those close to me happy or at least bring us a laugh or a smile.

This year the list is pretty basic. I only want to drink good coffee; I mean we only have 525,600 minutes, why waste them on bad coffee. Spend more time visiting with family and friends, if an adult beverage is involved so be it. Take up another hobby; I am not sure that will make my wife smile. Keep my scrapbook, journal, and blog site up to date. Convince my friend Cliff that I would like to help with the harvest or planting and can do it with ruining anything. Cook some good meals and share them with friends. Smile more when I ride my bike, it is fun after all (even thought the first couple of rides about kill me). Visit a couple places I have never been before. Be a little more tolerant especially with accountants and attorneys. Think more about retirement and less about work. Get ready for retirement.

How are you going to fill your Tabula Rasa?