Tag Archives: WGOM featured

On Reading (or Not) and Book Awards

Once upon a time, I read books. Mostly, I read books during my bus commute. And when I had to stop commuting, I stopped reading. Sure I read for work and I read for my kids. But I haven't yet managed to find a time in the routine for reading whatever the heck I want.

However, one bit of good news for book lovers is that a pandemic isn't enough to stop book awards from being bestowed. I talked about the Minnesota Book awards here in 2014 and 2017, so now that another three years have passed, the time has come to once again bring up our fabulous literary community. There was, of course, no in-person gathering, but I was watching the livecast as it happened, and thanks to the accompanying chat, the event was surprisingly celebratory and truly did have a feeling of community and mutual support as authors cheered one another on. I even have it on good authority that the brother of a certain WGOM citizen was even in (virtual) attendance. (I kind of loved that cocktail attire was still recommended despite the fact that we were all in our homes.)

You can check out the livecast here if you'd like. And the full list of winners is here.

And, well, there's just one other little thing. I have a rather special connection with one of this year's winning books. And seeing it win may have been a little bit exciting. This particular book meant a lot to all of us involved with it. If you're curious, you can check out the story behind the book.

So what are you reading? Or wishing you had time to read?

Earth Day

Sure, we can make every day Earth Day, but today is also literally Earth Day. And what better way to celebrate than with a global pandemic? Well, okay, maybe celebrate is the wrong word.

Certainly gatherings and in-person events aren't happening, but if you're interested, you can find a lot going on today at earthday.org.

The pandemic has definitely forced lots of changes, at least some of which are good for the Earth. For me, one of the big things is definitely lack of travel--by car, bus, plane, or any other means besides my own feet. And oh, I did finally make the switch to cloth napkins at home, which I mentioned in an earlier post in this series! It turned out my mom had a set of cloth napkins she wasn't using, and how that we're eating 100% of our meals at home, it's been nice to be able to know we're not generating a bunch of trash just keeping our faces food free.

Have you made changes--or had changes forced upon you--during this time?

Banana Cream Pie for bananas times

What to do with the just ripe to just over ripe bananas? Pie, of course. The hard way around is to make your own pie crust, but a store bought version will work out just fine. Bake the pie crust til golden brown, and set aside to cool. For the filling you'll need:

5 tbs flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups whole milk (very important it's whole milk...)
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla
3-4 bananas

Method:
Scald the whole milk in the bottom of a double boiler. Essentially you want to bring the temp of the milk to 180 degrees F. While milk is warming on the stove combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the top half of the double boiler and whisk to combine. Stir the milk to keep a skin from forming, and once the milk is scalded add to the dry ingredients. Rinse out the bottom of the double boiler and fill with enough water to warm the upper half sufficiently. Once the liquid has warmed temper the eggs by adding a few tablespoons worth of milk mixture to the eggs at a time. This will keep the eggs from scrambling once they're added to the milk. Stir in the eggs and reduce the pudding you've made to as thick a consistency as you like - in this case thicker is better so that you don't have runny pudding pie, but it's really dealers choice - When you've just about reached your desired pudding texture stir in the vanilla, slice the bananas into the pie shell, and then fill pie shell with the pudding. Place the whole works in the fridge to chill for a couple of hours.

The Nation Has An Appetite: Garlic Shrimp in Coconut Milk

A few weeks ago, when I was planning for a long-term quarantine, I decided that at some point I'd make a red curry. But when I opened my fridge this past week I discovered that I didn't have enough curry paste and I needed to come up with a different plan. Glancing around the internet I found a few recipes that seemed like I could try for, but none for which I really had all the ingredients. And I wasn't going out for more. So here's what I came up with:

INGREDIENTS
Lots of jumbo shrimp. The bigger the better.
Olive oil
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 small onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch ginger, grated
Salt
Crushed red pepper flakes
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1 can coconut milk
Juice of 1 lime
Basil (I used dried, since it was available)

Fry the garlic and ginger in hot oil, about 1 minute.
Slice the peppers and onion, add to the garlic, cook until soft - about 5 minutes.
Add the can of coconut milk* and tomatoes, salt, basil, 1/2 of lime juice, red pepper flakes, bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes.
*I've seen it suggested that coconut milk should not be stirred up before adding it to the pan, and should be melted down and slowly mixed in as it cooks. That's what I did here and it worked really well, so it seems like that is true?
Add the shrimp, keep over heat until just cooked through.
Add the rest of the lime juice, and more red pepper flakes to taste.

I served over rice noodles and with a slice of toast (good toasted bread is perfect with this for soaking up the milk).

This definitely seemed like it could use some fresh herbs - One of the inspiring recipes called for cilantro. Maybe something with a little more crunch sprinkled over the top too, though I'm not sure what. Also, if anyone has suggestions for cooking process that would help improve this, I'd be happy to take those. I definitely plan on making this again - the shrimp came out perfect, the left-overs heated really well (no leftover shrimp... that should probably go without saying, right?), it came together really fast and easy, etc. So any improvements are appreciated!

Bootsy’s Hungover Kale

BOOTSY'S HUNGOVER KALE

I stumbled upon this "recipe" while trying to recreate/interpret a wonderful dish called Hungover Kale from Mucci’s Restaurant on W. Lake Street in Minneapolis. Theirs includes pancetta, pine nuts and Chardonnay. As I had none of the above items, I decided to wing it with ingredients that I had on hand. After all, that's half the fun of cooking, IMO. And while I won’t claim that my dish is tastier than the offering from Mucci (it isn’t), I can attest that it's pretty damn good in its own right (it is.) Serve it as a main course with an egg or two on top, or in combination with a side of buttered noodles, rice, or macaroni and gravy.*

*hat tip to Paulie Walnuts

Ingredients:

-6 cups kale chopped and washed

-1 medium to large yellow onion chopped

-6 cloves garlic chopped (more or less to your tastes)

-8oz ground pork sausage (could sub turkey sausage or skip entirely, but it becomes a different dish--still good, I bet)

-2  jalapeño peppers sliced (more or less depending on your tastes)

-3 tablespoons olive oil

-3 oz. dry vermouth (a good glug from the bottle.)

-1 can cannellini beans drained and rinsed

-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (you could cut that in half if you lack fortitude)

-sea salt

-black pepper

-farm fresh eggs (optional)

-green onions (optional)

-quarter cup pine nuts or chopped walnuts (optional)

Now first an admission, I rarely ever follow a recipe. (It's why I don't bake. lol) In fact, I take a perverse pride in winging it in the kitchen. I once made dinner for a group of co-workers from the restaurant at the Hilton,  including the executive chef and his wife. Yes, I was nervous. Very nervous, as a matter of fact. Turns out,  I shouldn't have been--everybody loved it. (It was my Hot and Spicy Pork.) Afterwards, Chef J.G. asked if he might have the recipe. I told him there wasn't one, I just threw it together by feel. He smirked and said, "I wasn't aware that you played Jazz." With that in mind, these measurements are all approximations.

In a large skillet add 3 tablespoons olive oil and bring to medium heat. Add onion, jalapeños, and a couple pinches of sea salt. Cook until onions are semi-translucent. Add garlic and brown for a few minutes. Add ground pork sausage and raise heat to med high. Add the crushed red pepper and brown the sausage while gently mixing the contents with a spatula. Once the meat is cooked somewhat (med-rare-ish), raise heat to high and add the cannellini beans. After a minute or so, add 3 ounces of dry white vermouth (cooking sherry or the Chardonnay that the recipe actually calls for could be substituted.) Promptly add the chopped kale on top of ingredients and cover. After a minute or so on high, reduce heat all the way down to low. Check dish after 12-15 minutes and stir your mixture of ingredients all together. Re-cover the skillet and continue on low heat for 5 more minutes. The beauty of this recipe is that while it's ready to serve at this point, you can continue to keep the dish on low heat for another 15 minutes or more. Kale retains its integrity far longer than most greens, so it won't turn to mush. It affords you the time to tend to other items you might be preparing, or simply give you an opportunity to enjoy a glass of wine before dinner. First rule of the kitchen? Marinate the chef. Top with the pine nuts or walnuts if you have them. (I did not this outting.) Add additional salt and pepper to taste. Once plated, a sprinkling of sliced green onion will add even more color, flavor and texture thus assuring your dish is ready for its close-up, Mr. DeMille. Bootsy's Hungover Kale: a versatile and tasty dish that works for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Serves 3-4 as an entree, 6-8 as a side dish.

The IT Crowd: Laptop Dance

Several months ago I had plans to do another upgrade project on my laptop. Built in 2010, the Dell Latitude E6410 has been my daily driver for many years now. I had already done the quick and easy upgrades, exchanging the original hard drive for an SSD, swapping out the wireless card for an 802.11ac model, and adding an HD decoder card for flawless video performance. But I wanted more. I did some research and found that you could replace the stock Intel i5 processor with an i7 and thereby increase the RAM capacity from 8GB to 16GB. Since more is better but I also tend to procrastinate a bit, I got the parts and then never got around to doing the project. Until now. There are lots of reasons to like a Latitude - good design, solid builds, and value. Because of their widespread enterprise use you can pick up 3-4 year old off lease models on eBay for a song. But for me the kicker is how easy they are to work on and upgrade. The back cover is held on with a single screw, and once removed you have access to the whole can of worms.

Right there in the middle is the new CPU, an i7 720qm quad core running at 1.6 gigahertz. Over to the left next to the cooling fan compartment is the NVidia video processor, and that is where my project went sideways. When I removed the cooling fan to get access to the CPU, the thermal pad between the GPU and heat sink tore and I had to scrape it off and throw it out. Thermal pads are used to fill gaps between processors and heat sinks so they maintain good contact and provide efficient heat transfer for cooling. When I reassembled the unit I gooped it up with thermal paste, but the gap was too big. I got good heat sink contact with the CPU, but not the GPU, so when I tested it out the GPU temperature was spiking up to 80 degrees Celsius. It got so hot that it affected my keyboard, which started to lag and glitch. No good. So while I consider the project successful, it's not quite finished. I have some thermal pads and copper shims on order that should be here by Monday. In the meantime, I'm working on my daughter's old Lenovo Thinkpad T400 that I resurrected to serve as a backup until my parts arrive and I can complete the Latitude project. After that I'm going to tackle another long overdue project, upgrading the processor and adding an HD decoder card to the old 15.4" Thinkpad T61, the last of the true IBM laptops, which is currently running Linux Mint 19.3 Tricia like a champ.

Pandemic Parenting

The nice thing about having agreed to write this post is that I have something to do this weekend that doesn’t involve repeatedly checking Twitter and Instagram, trying to send messages to friends but not being able to figure out the phrasing and finally giving up, and staying up too late thinking I’ll get something done but accomplishing nothing.

My kids were on spring break last week and I had four days off, but Friday was rough. To get us through the weekend, I had my kids make schedules (pictured above), which definitely helped in terms of avoiding boredom as well as giving them a sense of control in a situation that’s beyond their control.

If you're looking at the photo of the schedules and thinking they're absurdly detailed, yes, it's true. They're ending up being more of a guide to a sequence of events than something we're following exactly. A long time ago, I remember reading something about the value of following the usual routine during times of crisis. For a kid (especially young kids), the routine provides comfort and helps them know what to expect. So having a set wake-up time and bedtime, having some limits on screen time, having regular mealtimes, getting dressed every day, etc., all have meaning right now.

For those people here who have kids, I imagine the specific things you’re dealing with are different depending on the age of the kid, but it’s all stressful. And for those who don’t have kids, I know many of you still have your own parents to worry about right now.

Highlights of the past couple days include the jalapeño learning to chop vegetables with a chef’s knife and the peperoncino grating his own cheese for a quesadilla. The boys have also done a good number of household chores, and the jalapeño’s room is the cleanest it’s been all year. The jalapeño has also been having FaceTime chats with a 4th grade friend, and they've been both hilarious and adorable. Yet there were also some intense sibling fights and meltdowns.

In some ways, having elementary-age kids is great because it limits how much time I can spend reading about the pandemic. Taking care of my boys’ immediate needs gives me something to focus on and keeps my anxiety levels down. On the other hand, I dearly miss having any sort of time to myself (the boys did very little without a parent all weekend), and I envy the people who seem to be actually accomplishing stuff while staying home. On the other other hand (I have a lot of hands), I recognize how fortunate I am to not be dealing with far more serious problems.

During this next week, teachers in our school district will be working on plans for teaching remotely; we will be going to the school to get a Chromebook for each boy at an assigned pick-up time. Since Mr. NaCl and I will both be working from home (and need to be able to actually get work done), my parents are going to come help. They’re both 70 and in good health, so on the one hand I think they’re happy to stay busy and pitch in. But part of me can’t help wonder if I’m being selfish and irresponsible by accepting their help.

Over the weekend, I did do a very little bit of reading about how to talk to kids about coronavirus, and one of the key takeaways is that it's wise to filter the information they get. It depends, of course, on age of the kid and how sensitive they are, but limiting their access to TV news/press conferences and online sources of info might be wise. I've also told the jalapeño that there are things he might want to talk about that shouldn't be discussed in front of his 6-year-old brother.

By chance, I came across some wise words from a school psychologist. This psychologist said not to be surprised by an increase in behavior issues, including meltdowns, tantrums, and oppositional behavior. This is a normal reaction under the circumstances. (I was very reassured to read this.) They also said not to obsess over kids' progress in school during this time of remote learning or to put too much pressure on kids academically. As parents, our first priority is to do what we can to ensure that our kids feel comforted and loved right now. To quote the psychologist, "How [your kids] felt during this time will stay with them long after the memory of what they did during these weeks is . . . gone."

So how are you feeling?

At The Movies: Quarantine Edition

It's been awhile since we've done one of these. Seems appropriate to do one now though; lots of relevant topics.

Now that you've got the time, what titles long in your queue do you hope to unearth? Now that everything has shut down, how are your viewing habits/methods changing? Are you rationing your TV time even with little else to do?

And of course, what have you been watching lately?

The Footprints of the Windigo

As I mentioned last week, I've been reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. A passage caught my attention as I was riding the bus to work this morning, and I thought it might be an interesting way to approach this month's conversation.

Kimmerer talks about stories about the Windigo--a legendary monster with a heart made of ice that's insatiably hungry and is a cannibal that becomes more ravenous the more it eats. Say says, "It shrieks with its craving, its mind a torture of unmet want. Consumed by consumption, it lays waste to humankind." She doesn't bring this up, but I want to point out that while there are a number of stories about the Windigo in popular culture, they don't stay true to the stories the Anishinaabe people tell. (For more on that, check this out.)

Kimmerer says the following in reference to the footprints of the Windigo:

They're everywhere you look. They stomp in the industrial sludge of Onondaga Lake. And over a savagely clear-cut slope in the Oregon Coast Range where the early is slumping into the river. You can see them where coal mines rip off mountaintops in West Virginia and in oil-slick footprints on the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. A square mile of industrial soybeans. A diamond mine in Rwanda. A closet stuffed with clothes. Windigo footprints all, they are the tracks of insatiable consumption. So many have been bitten. You can see them walking the malls, eying your farm for a housing development, running for Congress.

We are all complicit. We've allowed the 'market' to define what we value so that the redefined common good seems to depend on profligate lifestyles that enrich the sellers while impoverishing the soul and the earth.

I'd love thought on this passage as well as thoughts on how you think about consumption in your own life.