Quiet day

July 31, 2007

Not much going on this evening … just hanging out with the dogs, reading, and taking it easy. I was tired yesterday and wound up going to bed without any supper, but I made up for lost time this evening with a big plate of capellini with browned butter and mizithra cheese, which is one of my favorite meals. Directions follow; if you don’t have mizithra, you can substitute Parmesan or something similar, but mizithra tastes the best.

1/2 stick of butter per serving
Mizithra cheese, grated
Pasta (I like capellini, but any kind will work)

Cook pasta al dente. (If you’re not familiar with this term, it basically means, “Take it off and drain it before it turns into mush.”) Boil the butter over low heat, stirring constantly. It will foam and froth and carry on for several minutes. Keep stirring until it settles down and the solids in the bottom start to turn a nice golden brown.

Remove from heat, strain, and serve over pasta with lots of grated mizithra cheese. Lovely stuff. When we lived in Belleville, we used to take MetroLink over to the Landing and have dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory once in a while, and I’m eternally grateful to the Riverfront Times for including the recipe in their annual recipe issue about 10 years ago, as we now live seven hours from the nearest Old Spaghetti Factory, and I can’t seem to convince the company that they need to expand into Oklahoma.

Emily


7 miles

July 29, 2007

Take possession of your body, and govern its feeling and action. Rise in the strength of Spirit to resist all that is unlike good. God has made man capable of this, and nothing can vitiate the ability and power divinely bestowed on man.
— Mary Baker Eddy

I haven’t run in over a week, mostly because I’ve been playing Whac-A-Mole with various forms of error that kept manifesting themselves as physical symptoms. (I’ll probably have a whole ‘nother riff on that later.) But it was well past time to get back out there today, so I logged a couple of extra miles to make up for some lost time — and to fulfill a promise to a fellow runner.

I had a conversation online yesterday with a distance runner who was feeling discouraged after a bad run. He suspected that his problems were the result of disrupting his usual routines, and he decided the solution was to follow all of his routines concerning food, sleep, pace, etc. to the letter from now on, lest he risk crashing and burning again.

Routines are nice. I use them myself. They can be handy tools for getting things done efficiently. They even teach us some spiritual lessons, as they reflect divine Principle through qualities like order, discipline, and so forth. But routines — like any other tool — are best used in a controlled manner. If the tool starts to control the user, instead of the other way around, you’ve got problems. (This is why you probably shouldn’t attempt to operate a table saw while dressed like Stevie Nicks.)

I assured my new friend that while routines have their place, they aren’t magic, and the relative success or failure of any given run is entirely dependent on the runner’s ability to understand one simple fact:

You can run exactly as far as you think you can.

I promised my friend that I would prove this point before the weekend was out.

To that end, I took what was supposed to be an easy five-mile jog on a treadmill in an air-conditioned gym and stretched it into a seven-mile run (the farthest I’ve gone since November) down a hilly stretch of Route 66 on a steamy July evening, ignoring at least a half-dozen of my own routines in the process.

Was it hot? Yeah. Was I tired? Sure. Did my legs try to convince me they were going to cramp up about five and a half miles in? Yup. Did I accept any of that as part of my experience? Not on your life.

If I’d been governed by routines, I’d have given up and fled to the air-conditioned comfort of the gym after a mile or two in the heat. But then I would have missed the dazzling blue sky behind the Day and Nite Cleaners building, the encouraging smile from the scruffy-looking guy who flashed a peace sign at me as we passed each other on the sidewalk (I returned the gesture and the smile, of course), and the beautiful plains coreopsis that was growing up through a crack in the sidewalk.

Of course we want to exercise common sense and not be foolish or reckless in our activities (which is exactly why I ended my run after seven miles instead of attempting a few more in a somewhat dicey area of town, with the sun starting to set, after an unnerving encounter with a random motorist who was just a little bit too friendly) … but when we understand that we are limited only by our beliefs about matter — and not by matter itself — we can break through those limits and enjoy wholesome, pleasant activities without having to be afraid that we’ll pay some terrible penalty for breaking with our usual routines.

Emily

Box score:
Miles today: 7
Total miles: 29.3

Next scheduled run: Tuesday at the gym … probably something in the three-to-five-mile range


Tree museum

July 29, 2007

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I needed to go to the zoo Saturday afternoon to take a photo of a Ganesha statue for my goddaughter, Remy, whose room is decorated in a jungle theme. Her mom asked me to shoot an elephant, a giraffe, or a hippo. We have kind of a tradition involving photographs of animal statues, so I’m hooking her up with a triptych featuring Ganesha, a blue fiberglass hippo from Edmond, and Bob Cassilly’s giraffe from the Dallas Zoo.

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While Ron and I were at the zoo, we went to the Wings of Wonder exhibit, which is a big walk-through greenhouse containing lots of flowers and several species of butterflies. It made me think of the Insectarium at the St. Louis Zoo.

St. Louis’ Insectarium is a lovely educational exhibit that gives viewers a peek at the habits of some of the less cuddly species that share the planet with us. But I love it because it’s the best example of irony I’ve ever seen.

As you walk into the Insectarium, you are greeted by a big sign proclaiming that the exhibit was made possible by a generous donation from Monsanto.

Yes, that Monsanto. The folks who gave us Roundup herbicide, Ortho pesticides, and one of the nastiest Superfund sites in the country. One of the world’s largest purveyors of bug spray sponsored a huge exhibit about cohabiting peaceably with bugs.

I can’t think of the Insectarium without bursting into song:

They cut down all the trees, put ‘em in a tree museum
And they’re charging the people a dollar and a half just to see ‘em….
— Joni Mitchell

Wings of Wonder didn’t have any glaring irony attached to it. It was just pretty.

I shot a few pictures while we were in there; of particular interest was the chrysalis house, a little kiosk sort of affair made of wood and screen wire where caterpillars turn into butterflies. Two newly hatched butterflies were drying their wings while we were there; the young docent was very nice about letting me get close to shoot pictures:

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I also got a picture of this character sipping nectar from a black-eyed Susan:

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Hope your weekend is full of beautiful creatures.

Emily


New kitchen tool

July 26, 2007

We had 15 eggs in the refrigerator, so I got them out tonight and made a batch of these crustless quiche thingies that Ron likes. They’re very easy. You just mix a bunch of eggs with a little bit of water and stir it up like you would for an omelet, but instead of frying it, you put omelet fillings into muffin tins and then pour the eggs over them and bake at 375 for about a half-hour.

Unfortunately, eggs have a way of sticking to muffin tins, so cleanup is kind of a pain … or was until tonight, anyway.

A few weeks ago, Ron bought me a new silicone muffin pan. It had space for only six muffins, but we figured if it worked well, we’d get another one. They’re expensive enough (the model we have is about $10 at Bed Bath and Beyond) that Ron didn’t want to spring for a big one until we were sure I’d really use it.

I’ll use it. This batch turned out really well, and I had no difficulty getting the eggs to turn loose from the pan. Cleanup should be a snap (I’ll actually be able to use the dishwasher this time!)

It took nine eggs to fill six muffin cups. I boiled the other six to eat as quick snacks/lunches/whatever over the next few days.

I went to dinner at the Rock Cafe on Route 66 this evening. While the staff scrubbed down every inch of the restaurant — including all of the memorabilia hanging on the walls — in anticipation of an upcoming appearance on some Food Network show, the owner’s 4-year-old son bounced around the dining room in an Incredibles costume (complete with fake muscles and a cape), for reasons I will not even pretend to understand. I asked him what his superpower was. After some coaching from his sister, he informed me that he had “supersonic speed.”

It was pretty funny to watch his uninhibited little self jumping around in that costume, pretending to be a superhero. I wish I’d remembered to bring my camera….

Emily


Handling temptation

July 25, 2007

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Scout waits for me to give her the go-ahead to enjoy her favorite food: vegetarian sushi.

Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
James 1:12

When the illusion of sickness or sin tempts you, cling steadfastly to God and His idea. Allow nothing but His likeness to abide in your thought.
–Mary Baker Eddy

We took Scout along with us to a church picnic a couple of weeks ago. Scout is a very food-driven dog, and she’s amassed quite a repertoire of Stupid Pet Tricks that she can use to earn treats.

One of her tricks that gets a big response out of onlookers is something I call the Mine Game. I put her in a down-stay, and then I lay a treat on the ground in front of her and say “Mine!” in a very firm tone. Scout won’t touch the treat until I say, “OK — take it!”

It’s a cute trick to show other people, but the Mine Game also has some practical value: It establishes the owner as Alpha, it protects children (if the dog recognizes “Mine!” as a command, she’s less likely to bite an assertive toddler for yanking a toy out of her mouth), and it protects the dog from eating potentially harmful items, such as the bag of chocolate chips I spilled on the kitchen floor one afternoon a few years ago. (A quick “No! Down! Stay! Mine!” stopped Scout at the doorway and kept her from gorging herself on chocolate, which I’m told is toxic to dogs.)

Obeying this command is obviously very challenging for a little dog who really likes treats, so to reduce the temptation to disobey, Scout will turn her head away and avoid looking at the treat in front of her. If I push the treat closer to her, she just army-crawls backwards to get away from it.

Scout’s method of handling temptation is very different from most humans’ standard M.O.

We humans seem to have an affinity for flirting with disaster. Instead of trying to look away from the things that tempt us, we stare at our vices until we become obsessed with them. Instead of backing away from error, we dance as close to it as we possibly can. And then we wonder why we get ourselves in trouble.

Scout is wiser. Scout knows that if she yields to temptation, she’s going to get into trouble. Conversely, she knows that if she adheres to Principle by obeying her master’s commands, a blessing will eventually be forthcoming. It might not come as fast as she’d like, or in the exact way she’d like, but she knows that a blessing is coming sooner or later if she’s obedient, and she’s willing to wait for it.

No wonder people like her obedience demonstrations so much: In her feisty, funny, ornery-little-rat-terrier way, Scout is teaching her audience a valuable spiritual lesson.

Emily


Pickles and peppers

July 25, 2007

I still have cucumbers in the crisper, but I finally managed to put up eight pints of pickles — four laced with cayenne, and four laced with Chocolate habanero — and four jars of homemade hot sauce made from cayenne peppers, distilled vinegar, sea salt, and a few Jamaican Yellow, Fish, and Aji Dulce peppers, with two unidentified peppers that I suspect are Nardellos thrown in for good measure.

The mystery plant was labeled as a Yellow Peter, but when it started setting fruit, it was clear that either something had cross-pollinated, or someone had mislabeled the plant, because these peppers were long, tapered, and looked suspiciously like a smallish Anaheim. Let’s just say that Yellow Peters have a distinctive look that bears absolutely no resemblance to a traditional hot pepper.

Whatever the mystery peppers are, they taste good and look pretty and should be a fine, if slightly mellow, addition to the hot sauce. The wild card in the mix is the Jamaican Yellow, which I haven’t really worked with before. These seem fairly mild, with a flavor that’s not terribly dramatic. Something about them reminded me vaguely of a pequin, except nowhere near as hot … which is interesting, since they have the same scientific name as the habanero and are rumored to be similarly spicy. (I suspect the hefty rains this season had something to do with the tame flavor. Drought seems to stimulate capsaicin production; moisture, not so much.)

I debated whether to use any Aji Dulce (a sweet variety that looks exactly like a habanero and lends itself equally well to cruel jokes or medium-spicy salsa) on the grounds that its flavor might not go well with cayenne, but despite the rain, my cayennes seem fairly potent, so I think the exotic fruitiness of the Aji Dulce will add a little complexity to the sauce without drowning out the friendly, slightly salty familiarity of the cayenne.

It’s pretty hard to beat a traditional Louisiana-style hot sauce. Interestingly, Mike Ditka’s version is just about the best I’ve had; I try to keep a bottle or two on hand and use it on just about everything I eat.

If the hot sauce and pickles turn out well, I’ll post recipes later.

My jars have stopped going “plink,” so I think I’ll check for any duds that need to go into the refrigerator, have a glass of water, and hit the sack. I’m exhausted.

Emily


Cucumbers

July 24, 2007

This is why I have to put up pickles this evening:

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To give you a sense of scale, that’s an 18-oz. box of cereal. The cucumbers are a variety called Yard Long. I’m pulling two or three of these things off the vines every day … and I only planted one hill of them, because Ron doesn’t like cucumbers! I’ve taken them to work, given them to friends, fed them to the chickens, shared them with Scout, made refrigerator pickles, and tonight, I’m planning to can pickles for winter. Crazy. I will obviously be saving seeds off of this plant….

Emily


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