Short story #1: August’s Story

I’ve been trying to get motivated to write some short stories.  Here’s story number 1 for December:

My name is August because I was borned in August.  I am almost nine and my birthday is next week, but my brother says that I can’t say I’m nine until my birthday.  But I’m almost nine.

I am supposed to write a story for class but not a made-up story.  I must describe a time when I witnessed a random act of kindness.  Which I think sounds like a crime show.  But then I remembered when I was little and we lived in a house where Mom was a witness for Jesus, and everyone says he is nice and definitely would not do a crime.  Except he got nailed to a tree and it seems like THAT ought to be a crime, in my opinion.

So here is my story: One time I was at a park with my brother.  His name is Hank, and DO NOT call him Hankie or he will punch your arm.  (Except he won’t punch our Mom, but she just calls him Hankie sometimes for teasing.)  We were at the good park with all the climbing stuff, just my brother and me. There’s some bushes at that park, not by the street but on the other side by the alley.  And we saw a dog there, by the bushes.

This dog was real skinny, and patchy black because some of his fur was kind of missing which maked him look even more skinny.  Hank said, “I think that dog is lost.” And he pulled off some of his peanut butter sandwich, like the size of a chicken nugget, and went over by the dog.

That dog looked scared but Hank makes friends with animals all the time.  So he just waited a minute, and sure enough the dog came right to him and ate his piece of sandwich and then tried to sniff his pockets for more, but Hank had left his sandwich on the bench with me.

So after Hank petted the dog for a minute, he said it was a boy dog, and I said what’s his name, and he said, maybe Comet?  He didn’t really know, though. But we called him Comet and I let Hank take the strap off my purse to make a leash, which was blue.  I only had seashells in my purse, so that was fine.

What kind of dog was Comet, you may ask.  He was a terrier-shepherd mix. Hank figured that out because he researched LOST DOGS and all the ones that looked like Comet were terrier-shepherd mix dogs.  At first I thought Hank said terror-shepherd, ha! But if you didn’t know it, a terrier is a kind of dog. At our old house, they said Jesus was a shepherd, but I guess dogs can be shepherds too.  Which makes sense because dogs are really nice, even though my old babysitter got bit by a dog. But Mom says she got bit by Jesus when we lived in that old dumb house, so there you go.

Ok, so this story is a long one!!  But here is my random act of kindess example: because Hank actually did find the real owners for Comet, whose names are Jason and Angie.  And they were so happy to get him back that they were crying when they came and got him from Hank in our parking lot.  Not like babies bawling, but like adults cry where they scrunch up their faces and get squeaky voices and have to blow their nose.  They had a blue Outback which I remember because Comet rode in the back. Plus Comet was so happy to see them and tried to lick their faces off and did the Crazy Wiggle Dance, but like times a thousand.

So I was a witness for my brother being real kind for that whole thing.  And also it turned out that Comet’s name was actually Corbet. But that’s pretty close.

On oils (the cooking kind)

I’ve read a ton of stuff over the last couple years on cooking oils — some highly credible and research-based, some full of witch-doctory, all extremely sure of itself. I have developed some opinions, naturally, both as a person interested in nutrition and as a home cook whose chief priority is making tasty food. Here are the top things I think about when deciding what oil to use:

1. My current go-to all-purpose cooking oil, if I had to pick just one, is avocado oil. It’s a monounsaturated oil like olive oil, and (unless you’re buying a farm-to-table bright green version) it has a very neutral taste and smell. You can cook with it, use it in baking, or make it into salad dressing — definitely a jack of all trades. Having said that…

2. You can use olive oil, coconut oil, or ghee for just about anything, and the results will also be delicious. Sure, they each have a distinct aroma and might go especially well with certain recipes, but don’t fuss too much about what oil to use. If your recipe calls for one, and you substitute in another, just take note of any difference and see what you think, but don’t worry that it’s going to “ruin” your results. Sometimes a little hint of different makes it that much better.

3. The above four oils are the ones I use. I like sesame oil and peanut oil just fine, too, but I no longer bother to buy them. Oil has a shelf life — it needs to get used. Ideally you want to use up that newly opened bottle of olive or avocado oil in, say, three to six months. (Depends on how big your bottle is, right?) Monounsaturated fats aren’t quick to oxidize and turn rancid, but they won’t stay good forever. (You’ll know when it’s gone off, as rancid oil has a distinct musty odor. Trust me, you will notice.) Coconut oil and ghee are both rich in saturated fat, which makes them shelf stable for longer — making either a good pantry back-up option.

4. In general, buy oils in glass jars or bottles. I don’t make this an absolute rule (e.g. we buy big bulk containers of coconut oil from Costco, which are plastic), but I definitely would prefer glass wherever it’s an option, especially for liquid oils. I think there’s both a campaign of misinformation defending plastics and a circus of “clean eating” scare-tactic nonsense around the dangers of plastics, and I have no idea where the truth lies. But have you ever pulled an old, cheap bottle of oil out of the back of a cabinet, and it’s weirdly sticky and crumply? That’s the result of the oil slowly degrading the plastic as they sit in contact. Oils and plastics seem to interact in some funky ways. This is a non-issue with glass.

5. Don’t worry too much about cooking temperature. It’s true that a really good olive oil will be most nutritious unheated, but you’re not going to “ruin” it by using it to cook. Use what you’ve got. To get the most virtue out of your cooking oils (and your food in general), don’t cook over high heat. High heat is for boiling water. If you’re sauteing or pan-frying, medium to medium-high heat is all you need. I prefer coconut oil or ghee for frying, but I consider that a matter of taste. If you’re roasting oil-tossed veggies or potatoes in the oven, no need to crank it up to 400F+. You can roast veggies beautifully at 350F, better for the veggies and the oil you’re using to roast them. All the high-heat warnings around oil aren’t so much a warning about the oil as they are an indicator that cooking at very high heat is hard on food.

I wrote a poem.

The rock and the river.

They say that a rock in just the right spot

can change the course of a river.

It’s a nice idea.

Probably gives too much credit to the rock,

but we’ve always got to name a protagonist.

What the river was up to, well,

who can say?

 

This sure seems like an age for rocks in the river.

See that blockhead carrying on over there?

His rhetoric says, I CANNOT BE MOVED,

while the waters tumble him sideways and upside down.

What’s upside-down to a rock anyway?

He might as well go sideways

— who could tell?

So sure he’s moving the water,

but the river was here before him.

It knocks us together in the unlikeliest ways.

 

Still, a little course correction wouldn’t be amiss.

I hunker down in the place I’ve chosen

and hope for the best.

 

Bicep-tionality

I’m co-organizing a series of learning events at work in honor of Pride month.  One of them is on the topic of intersectionality.  In feminist literature, this originated as looking at the way that race and socioeconomic status interact with gender to create systemic disadvantage that is more complex and more intractable than just any of those factors alone.  More broadly, we’re using it to capture the way that different aspects of identity come together to create experiences that may be very different from what others may see or understand.  That might include other aspects of identity like sexuality or veteran status or disability, or even things like being a parent or non-parent, or being tall, or an only child, or musical.  Some of these are things that we can see at first glance, and some are things that you can’t know by looking.

So when I saw this post earlier this week, I thought, this dude is my new icon of intersectionality:

Look at that guy on the left — he’s huge!  Apparently this attracted some notice and a follow-up:

A master chef who does cake decorating and ice carving!  Because you can be a huge muscled veteran who likes to feed people attractive food.  People are complex.  And because everyone has a unique set of experiences that they’re dealing with, we all have the opportunity to be each other’s allies — to listen and learn and be respectful and supportive.

Breakfast Hash

Everyone has a few foods that are objectively terrible but are seasoned with such nostalgia that they still hit the spot. For me, this includes Chef Boyardee ravioli (for a lazy couch-potato day), chocolate Zingers (on a road trip), and a late-morning breakfast with corned beef hash, the kind out of a can. If you’ve never had corned beef hash, it looks and smells rather like canned dog food — only it’s got about 5,000 times the sodium. I’ve had house-made versions at chic breakfast joints and nice diners, always with some disappointment. Some things just aren’t meant to go upscale.

Right now, I’m taking a temporary stab at eating a Paleo AIP diet, which eliminates a whole bunch of things including nightshades like potatoes and peppers, as well as eggs, dairy, nuts, and other common allergenic foods. The idea is to try to clear the slate, then slowly add things back one at a time to see how they make you feel. It has also been a good kick in the pants to get more creative with cooking and try some new things.

This morning I made a breakfast hash that I swear to God is one of the most satisfying, lush and delicious breakfasts I have ever had. Corned beef hash it ain’t, but I’ve finally found a superior substitute. I chopped the veggies in a fairly fine dice, tossed in chopped homemade meatballs (essentially, seasoned ground beef), and then stirred in chopped avocado at the end which gave a superbly creamy mouthfeel to the dish.

Veggie-Beef Breakfast Hash

  • 1 Tbsp. avocado oil (or other oil for cooking)
  • 1 c. chopped broccoli (I used two roughly peeled stalks and leaves, but of course you could use the crowns like a normal person)
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed and minced
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  • Salt, to taste
  • 8 premade meatballs, chopped (or 1 c. cooked seasoned ground beef)
  • 1 medium avocado

Heat oil in pan over medium heat. Add broccoli and carrot and cook, covered, for a few minutes. Add zucchini, toss together, then add garlic and turmeric. Cook a few minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add meat and continue cooking until veggies are tender and meat is heated through, then turn off heat. Remove pit and peel from avocado and roughly chop, and stir into the hash. Plate and serve — serves two (or one of they’re very hungry).

Pumpkin-Beef Meatballs

  • 1 1/4 lb. ground beef
  • 300g canned pumpkin (about 2/3 can)
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. dried chives

Preheat oven to 375F. Combine all ingredients. Using a small scoop or tablespoon or your hands, shape into small meatballs and arrange on one or two baking sheets. Bake for 20 minutes or until cooked through and starting to brown. Makes ~45 meatballs — eat some now, freeze some for later.

From Columbine to Parkland

I was a senior in high school when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 13 people and injured two dozen more in their attack at Columbine school. That was April 20, 1999, almost 19 years ago.

The kid who murdered 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland? He was born in September of 1998. He wasn’t even a year old when the Columbine massacre occurred.

If the school shooting was born at Columbine, it is now old enough to have graduated from high school. Hell, the school shooting is old enough to have gotten married and started having kids.

All the real, actual kids who did graduate last year and all the kids who are currently in school have never lived in a world where school shootings don’t happen. Of course I’m not the first person to notice this — I just read a USA Today article that refers to today’s youth as “Generation Columbine.” (I don’t love the let’s-coin-a-term thing, but it does rather ram the point home.)

Nobody can possibly be serious in professing that it’s “too early” to talk about gun control. The insincerity or such a statement would be laughable if it weren’t for the 150+ kids who have been murdered to date … or the estimated 150,000 kids who have experienced a shooting at their school over the past 20 years.

Easy recipes to make your house smell amazing on a lazy day

I like to make a batch of both of these every so often — cinnamony nuts for snacking, and crunchy nut gravel for topping yogurt or oatmeal or just putting straight into your face. They’re both easy-peasy, and you can pretty much use whatever mix of nuts you want and achieve lovely results.

Cinnamon Maple Nuts

  • 1 c. raw almonds
  • 1 c. raw pecans
  • 2 c. raw walnuts
  • 2 Tbsp. ghee or coconut oil (or other neutral oil)
  • 2 Tbsp. maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon, or to taste

Preheat oven to 350F. Measure the nuts into a biggish mixing bowl. Melt the ghee / coconut oil in a small dish, then stir in the maple syrup. Pour over nuts and mix to coat. Sprinkle cinnamon generously over the top and mix more, until nuts are evenly coated with maple-cinnamon goodness. Spread nuts on a baking pan and bake for 8-12 minutes. If it’s your first batch, check ’em early and then keep a close watch — you want them a nice toasty color, but nuts can quickly go from toasty to slightly burnt if you’re not paying attention. If you’re using a glass baking dish, they may take longer. Let cool before storing. They should keep at room temp at least several weeks, at least in theory, although they never make it that long in my house.

Kitchen Sink Nut Gravel

  • 1 c. raw cashews, chopped
  • 1 c. raw almonds, chopped
  • 1 c. raw walnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 c. raw pecans, chopped
  • 1/2 c. coconut flakes
  • 1/4 c. raw pepitas
  • 2 Tbsp. chia seeds
  • 2 Tbsp. cacao nibs
  • 2 Tbsp. ghee or coconut oil (or other neutral oil)
  • 1 Tbsp. maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. turmeric
  • A tiny dash of black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Measure the nuts, coconut, and seeds into a biggish mixing bowl. Melt the ghee / coconut oil in a small dish, then stir in the maple syrup and the spices. Pour over nut mixture and stir until evenly coated. Spread nuts on a baking pan and bake for 8-12 minutes. (See above note on baking times.) Cool and store in a couple glass jars — makes a little over a quart.

Dusting off, making new

I started my first blog in the fall of 2000, when I was in college, when people still used to write “web log, or ‘blog'” in articles about this new format. This was before the term “social media” was coined.  Before blogging, you might create a personal website and fill it with lots of pages of nonsense, but the organization was all in site structure. Using a website to maintain an online journal seems obvious in hindsight, but at the time it was hailed either as revolutionary or as a useless boondoggle that would never catch on.

And now blogs are old hat. Well, welcome to this one.