Stardust to Stardust

For this perpetual student, Coursera has got to be the best invention ever.  So far, I have taken a philosophy course out of University of Edinburgh (land of Hume and haggis, what’s not to love?), exercise physiology from University of Melbourne, science of gastronomy from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Big Bang and Dark Energy from the University of Tokyo.  This last course, in particular, has fired my imagination.  In my less lucid moments I think I must have missed my calling as a particle physicist.  Or theoretical physicist.  Or what I really want to be, the Director of the Universe 🙂  I confess I never thought about the point of SLAC when I was at Stanford, and certainly when CERN went live, I still didn’t know what all the fuss was about.  Don’t we all want to know where we come from, and how it will all end?  I am fascinated by people who REALLY WANT TO KNOW what happened at the BIg Bang — not three minutes out, or one trillionth of a second out, or ten to the negative 26th second out, but the moment.  Stardust to  stardust . . . .

Up next, all about the angst of Kierkegaard from the University of Copenhagen, and something about city planning from University of Pennsylvania.  Massive Open Online Courses — who would have thought this twenty years ago?  I don’t participate in the forums or discussions, but there is something really cool about the idea of thousands of people all over the world participating in the same class, all — presumably — in search of human knowledge.  Now, if I could just get The Teenager to think of knowledge, rather than The Grade, as the goal!

Overheard at the Farmers’ Market, from a 4-year old girl:  “You can never have too much greens!”

CSA Share Week 18:  strawberries (2+ flats!), rhubarb, hakurei turnips, broccoli rabe, spinach, Swiss chard, onions, green onions, eggplant, tomatoes, eggs

Week 18 Recipes:  roasted turnips; strawberry rhubarb crisp; chard and green onion quiche (and who knew guinea pigs love chard stems!); curried lentil/barley/tomato stew; turnip greens with toasted garlic and bread crumbs; broccoli rabe in goat cheese sauce; eggplant in tomato basil sauce with rigatoni

You Mean, Aside from the National Park?

Quote of the Day:  “What is there to do in Estes Park other than shopping?”


I am surprised I still have a tongue left.

The Three Sisters were guests during my third (and final) innkeeping stint of the summer, about a week before The Flood of 2013.  They were actually nice people, just high-maintenance (and unaware that they were high-maintenance).rmnp hail stormDH and I went on a short hike one afternoon and got caught in a hail storm. Luckily, we were no longer in the open at that point and took shelter under some pine trees, but we were still less than half-way home . . . .

After five days of steady rain, Estes Park is under water; the bed and breakfast is in reasonable shape except for the innkeeper’s basement flat, which is flooded.  And, spur Highway 66 is in danger of failing a few hundred yards up the road from the inn.  The town will bounce back, as it always has.

CSA Share Week 15:  Asian eggplant, summer squash, green beans, spaghetti squash, carrots, strawberries

Week 15 Recipes:  eggplant pasticcio (from The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison: did not use mushrooms, used The Teenager’s heirloom tomatoes, and even though recipe did not call for squash, I threw it in there anyway and it turned out great); green beans with olive tapenade; roasted spaghetti squash and carrots

CSA Share Week 16:  garlic, Russian kale, dragon’s breath beans, potatoes, baby bok choy, Asian eggplants, summer squash, onions, strawberries, acorn squash, eggs

Week 16 Recipes:  eggplant pasticcio (because it was so good last week :-)); dragon’s breath beans simmered with tomatoes (the beans were surprisingly bland — definitely not a CSA highlight); sautéed garlic ginger bok choy; roasted potatoes; kale quiche (the Russian kale was sweeter than the usual kale and worked beautifully with the lovely orange and black cherry tomatoes from The Teenager’s garden)

CSA Share Week 17:  Asian eggplant, summer squash, rhubarb, strawberries, arugula, spinach, potatoes, carrots, onions, beets (kept the greens, gave away the beets), green beans

Week 17 Recipes:  rhubarb-apple betty (I think I had more than 1 pound of rhubarb, and even with halving the amount of sugar, the betty had the right balance of sweet and tart; recipe from The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison); Zuni stew (also from The Greens Cookbookused squash, green beans, garlic, and onions from CSA, and heirloom tomatoes from The Teenager’s garden); white beans and eggplant gratin (from The Greens Cookbook); beet greens quiche; spinach noodle pudding (from The Greens Cookbook); roasted carrots/potatoes/green beans; arugula lasagna (recipe found here, and fabulous, even though my arugula was a week old, and I did not have shallots so used onion instead!  My hat off to Annelle Williams, a wonderful cook!)

Royal Flush

This year’s USA Pro Challenge cycling race came through my city, and in a fit of hometown pride, DH and I signed up to be volunteers.  We thought we would be course marshals, but we ended up in the VIP Tent doing early morning setups.  Volunteers are easy: give us free t-shirts, free food (left over from breakfast for the amateur racers), and a couple of drinks vouchers, and we are happy campers.  IMG_2533
But probably the highlight of my day was the VIP luxury restroom trailer.  No VIPs were around — the governor had shown up earlier, made a brief speech, and sent the amateur racers on their way, but he was long gone.  Feeling VERY IMPORTANT, I used the women’s restroom.  Yes I did.  It was air-conditioned, it had running hot and cold water, and the toilets flushed.  It was, as they say, as pictured and described.  Who knew portable toilets could be so high-end?  Certainly not Opie and her new baby sister, Tula:

CSA Share Week 14:  Asian eggplant, squash, yellow (pole) beans, Tuscan kale, carrots, strawberries

Recipes:  warm yellow bean salad with shallots and olive oil/tarragon vinegar dressing; ratatouille; sauteed Tuscan kale with white beans; roasted carrots and potatoes

Red Chair Reads: The Fortnight in September

I love London (I’m with Dr. Johnson on this), and back when plane fares were a tad more affordable, I used to go once a year, usually by myself.  Six years ago, I took my family with me, and we rented a townhouse built at the end of the 17th century.  It was a great four-story house; it had saggy, creaky floors, and there was not one right angle anywhere in it.  It also had a full-size American style washer and dryer set, but that’s another story . . . .  The house was on Lamb’s Conduit Street, and was just a few buildings away from Persephone Books.  At the time, I had not heard of Persephone Books, but I was never one to pass up a bookstore — especially an interesting-looking one.

When we came home, I bought some used copies of various Persephone titles.  And I admit that three of those books are still in the TBR pile . . . .  Anyway, I finally read The Fortnight in September (1931) this past week.  Aside from being a period gem, it also has the distinction of being one of the few books published by Persephone Books that is not by a forgotten woman writer.  R. C. Sherriff (1896-1975) was an English writer who fought in World War I, and became best-known for Journey’s End, a play and book based on his experiences during the Great War.  He went Hollywood in the 1930s and wrote screenplays for movies such as The Invisible ManThat Hamilton Woman, and Goodbye, Mr. Chips, but before all that he wrote The Fortnight in September.

Not much happens in the book: the lower middle-class Stevens family look forward all year to that most English of English holidays, their two weeks at the seaside.  The father has reconciled himself to the fact that he has advanced as far as he can in his small-fry firm, but perhaps it is all right after all, because he is further along than his father, and in turn, he can believe his son will go even further.  During those two weeks at Bognor Regis, other family members have their crystalline moments — the son who realizes that as unhappy as he is at work, he can be more; the daughter who has a moment of romance, and understands it for the “bit of fun” that it is; the wife who gives in to the pleasures of an hour of peace, an hour of doing nothing in a sitting room with her measured glass of port.  This is the life that the men in trenches dreamed about returning to; it is what makes the English, the everyday moments that are worth their loyalty, worth their lives.

CSA Share Week 13:  potatoes, onion, squash, green beans, Asian eggplants, Tuscan kale, purple bell pepper, strawberries, honeydew melon, eggs

Week 13 Recipes:  tomato/eggplant/squash tian; honeydew melon fruit salad; peach (fresh from Palisade, Colorado) bread pudding; sauteed Tuscan kale with white beans; warm green beans with tapenade of olives/heirloom tomato (grown by The Teenager)/grilled banana peppers (also grown by The Teenager)

Statin in the Drinking Water

A cardiologist told me once that he thought statins should be added to the drinking water.  I think he may have been joking, but most cardiologists will tell you the benefits of statins far outweigh the risks.  I have crappy genes when it comes to lipids: my mother has been on Lipitor for 15 years, and her lipid profile is just acceptable.  Unfortunately, I seem to have inherited her crappy genes.   Too bad I didn’t get Dad’s genes: sedentary, eats whatever he wants, and perfect numbers.  His father ate five eggs a day, and attributed his longevity to that and the occasional pipe.

I had been on Niaspan for close to a decade, and while on it had wonderful numbers, including a HDL of 100.  But, given the recent debate about what exactly niacin does to lipids, I decided to take myself off the drug and see what happens.  The good news is that all that exercise has kept my HDL pretty high at 75, but the rest of the profile has gone to hell.  I have become the perfect candidate for statin therapy.  I can do everything right, but I can’t overcome the menopausal rise in cholesterol, and I can’t overcome genetics.

I have been on simvastatin for almost two weeks now, and it’s not going as “benignly” as I had hoped: I am having palpitations again, and while it is true that I have had them in the past (I blame them on menopause), I also don’t think it’s just coincidence that the arrhythmia has returned since the new medication.  So . . . .  My doctor and I play this waiting game while adjusting the dosage, and hope that we hit exactly the right combination of drug-lifestyle choices.  That Niaspan is looking pretty good right now . . . .

Kendal mint cake

Back in February, I was substitute innkeeper for a father-son hiking/climbing duo from England.  The father was retired and lived in Newcastle, and the son worked in The City when he wasn’t off adventuring, doing things like biking across America without support, or climbing Long’s Peak in the winter.  Anyway, the father swore by Kendal Mint Cakes, and had brought a small supply with him for their winter hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park (along with ice picks, avalanche shovels, and assorted other winter survival gear).  He shared his last bar of the mint cake with me, assuring me that it would come in handy some day when I was out and about.  Some day was last week, on a short hike up to Bible Point — and he was right, it was actually surprisingly good and gave us all a needed boost of energy.  After all, the cake made the summit with Hillary and Tenzing Norgay!

CSA Share Week 12:  summer squash, Asian eggplant, onion, baby carrots, green beans, Swiss chard, watermelon, strawberries

Week 12 Recipes:  spicy ratatouille with eggplant, squash, and onion; crustless quiche with Swiss chard, onion, scapes, and feta cheese; watermelon-based fruit salad; green beans with spicy olive tapenade; roasted carrots

Aha! Moment

A couple of weeks ago, the Mutual of Omaha “Aha Moment” truck came through town.  It was parked in front of my favorite bakery, but at 7:30 in the morning, nothing was happening.  My Aha! moment came a few years ago, and unlike other moments that I thought were Aha! moments, this one really was.  I decided I was not going to argue with my mother again.  Ever.  And suddenly, life on that front became so much easier.  What did it mean?  My mother is 81; if she doesn’t know by now what my stance is on x, y, or z, she is never going to know.  And quite simply, it doesn’t matter that she doesn’t know — my fundamental relationship with her will not change.  Helen Hull (unjustly neglected writer) put it wonderfully in her 1932 novel Heat Lightning:

She meets him where he stands, not where she is, herself.  She doesn’t care about justifying herself to him . . . .  When Geoffrey yells at me, I holler back.  Always.  But why should I do all the work?  I want Geoffrey to know where am.  Maybe you can’t both know, at once, can’t both see what’s pinching the other into such unreasonableness.  

I am working on doing the same thing with DH.  It is a lot harder, no doubt about it; it’s because I am, of course, always right.  And I want him to know it!

CSA Week 9:  squash blossoms, pickling cucumber, summer squash, hakurei turnips, carrots, grilling onions, green beans, heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, eggplants20130720_095905

Week 9 Recipes:  baked squash blossoms stuffed with herbed ricotta; cucumber salad; curried quinoa with squash, scapes, and toasted pine nuts; glazed hakurei turnips with turnip greens; roasted carrots, onions, green beans, and scallions

CSA Week 10:  squash blossoms, harkurei turnips (last of the season!), strawberries, rainbow chard, carrots, summer squash, Walla Walla sweet onion, eggs

Week 10 Recipes: baked squash blossoms stuffed with herbed ricotta (because they were so good last week!); sausage, apple, and sage quiche; roasted carrots; cous cous with squash/eggplant/scapes/pine nuts/raisins; glazed hakurei turnips with turnip greens; chard and new potato curry, recipe from River Cottage Veg: 200 inspired vegetable recipes, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (note to self: next time, feel free to leave some jalapeño seeds in the mix!)

The Drying Tree

About 5 years ago, a Danish family (the father was on a temporary job assignment in town) moved into the street behind our house.  Because they were European and thus much more aware than Americans of the concept of limited resources, one of the first things they did was put up a clothesline.  I admired them for their effort, but I of course did nothing in my own household.  A couple of weeks ago, perhaps more on a whim than an actual conscious desire to do good, I began to hang our clothes outside to dry.  Who knew the Marshall seedless ash would be absolutely perfect as a drying rack?  It provides shade so the clothes don’t get sun-bleached, and as a side benefit, I think the grackles have been staying away because of the flapping laundry!

DH sits on the Energy Board as a citizen volunteer — he is greatly concerned about the “big picture” problem of energy consumption.  If he were a historian, he would be a “big picture” narrative historian and ignore the whole trend of history from the bottom up.  The point is, he worries about how to get “people” to change their behavior and do the right thing for the environment, and thinks my efforts are minuscule.  Well, of course they are: how much impact am I making by saving one gallon of water a day because I keep a bucket for used dishwater that I later throw on various garden plants?  I have control only over my behavior, and that one gallon is one gallon; if I thought of that one gallon as a percentage, I would be paralyzed by the sheer scope of the problem, and that bucket would end up in the landfill.  And I would be back to throwing the laundry into the dryer, and thinking that after all, what did it all matter?

CSA Week 3:  spinach, arugula, broccoli rabe

Week 3 recipes:  broccoli rabe savory bread pudding; spinach fettuccine with arugula and tomatoes; vegetable biryani with spinach; truffled mac and cheese with spinach

CSA Week 4:  hakurei turnips, baby kale, strawberries, broccoli, garlic scapes

Week 4 recipes:  sauteed hakurei turnips and turnip greens with scapes and thyme, warm kale salad with kalamata olives, steamed broccoli