Triumph of the Mundane

Slow blogging at its finest

Ben Ming Nian or Seeing Red or Don’t Ask Me About My Underalls


This card was made for me by a friend who enjoyed my use of the famous Dorothy Parker line. We laughed when I opened it. Then came Chinese New Year. No one’s laughing now.

For a reason that also includes Bastille Day (for another time), I like to indulge in a little celebration on Chinese New Year: the first bike ride of the season. Because here in the Midwest the holiday often falls in early February when it’s a tad warmer and less icy than January 1, so taking the bikes out now is smarter – or a touch less stupid. This year, the date was immaterial.

Several pop-culture-y sites also make a minor fuss over the holiday, which lead me to discover that this is a Ben Ming Nian for me – my zodiac year of birth. A good thing, you’d think. Not so much. Talk about what fresh hell! Don’t start a job or change jobs, don’t buy a house — or even move, don’t get married. Those are just the things one can control! Every move pretty much torques off Tai Sui, a mysterious power that controls people’s fortune.

Then, in an odd, third-rate-motivational-speech turn, challenges and opportunities may come one’s way “with efforts and firm belief.” I might be able to see the opportunities if I could bring myself to get out from under the bed.

I was ready to brush it off as superstition until I recalled my last Ben Ming Nian, and I wanted to grab a brown paper bag because hyperventilating was a possibility.

What to do? Wear red. Lots of red. Especially red underwear. But I can’t buy it myself; for maximum effectiveness, red clothing must be gifts. Oh yea, I can see the hubs flipping through a rack of panties . . .

If you need to find me, I’ll be back under the bed facing east (another trick to assuage Tai Sui).

What fresh hell indeed. See you in early 2018 — as an added twist of misery, this lunar year has 13 months. Send red socks!




Swedish Meatballs, Finnish Swearing


This Nordic cooking thing is not going well. First the kransekake fail. Now Swedish meatballs. Really, how can Swedish meatballs get screwed up? Give myself a break, I said, do something easy enough, I decided. Well, the end result was perfectly-edible-but-flavorless meatballs.


Again, referred to the humongous all-things-Nordic cookbook; the secondary cookbook didn’t even have a recipe for Swedish meatballs.

No significant, no less distinct, flavor. One tablespoon of strong mustard was called for, so I added two and threw in some other seasonings. Still not enough. A day or two earlier, a Swedish meatball recipe rolled by on my Facebook feed and I remember thinking, Don’t forget that; that looks good. Several spices were listed. Couldn’t find the recipe again to save my soul. Still haven’t found it.

Resorted to swearing in Finnish. That’s the emoji above. Perkele: Say it like you mean it, as in the three examples here.





World Peace Will Have to Wait


World Peace Cookies, that is. I was all set to bake those but got distracted by a big bag of sharp, bitter, and tart. Costco had Meyer lemons on special. I’ve wanted to cook with them, and now I’ll get plenty of practice.

Since the hubs doesn’t like lemon in savory dishes, tangy desserts it is.


I don’t cook with citrus fruit often and had forgotten the lovely mess one can make. All. those. seeds! The rasp is normally employed for grating parmesan so zesting proved no problem. But we have nothing even vaguely resembling a citrus reamer or juicer. Brute force had to suffice.


The recipe was specifically for Meyer lemons; found it on Epicurious. Good thing it called for 3/4 cup lemon juice – three lemons down, a dozen or so to go! The result is quite tangy, the flavor much deeper than had I followed the recipe in a mundane cookbook which called for a mere 3 Tablespoons of lemon juice. Why bother?

Soon I’ll get back to world peace, once we’ve gotten through the sharp, tart, and bitter of winter.






Bag Ladies


A couple of years ago I got the idea to thank my friends for being my friends by giving them something personal — beyond the cheer, kindness, and thoughtfulness (and occasional baked goods) that I make sure to bring to those relationships.

Because I like making things, bags came to mind. For each woman, I look for a fabric that reflects her personality. Forgive the immodesty, but on the whole I have pretty good taste and a rare gift-choosing ability, so trusting my judgement puts me on solid ground.

This is my latest bag. It went to a woman I met through work. She’s artsy. I’d like to be artsy. Although we have a lot in common, our friendship didn’t really solidify until we weren’t working together. The pattern is Glenda from Swoon. (The credit is included only if someone feels inclined to find out more; I have no personal link with the company.)  I do love the interwebs to find new and different things.


Of course for this level of effort, passing friends and acquaintances won’t be receiving bags any time soon. But I still have a dozen good women on the top-line list. That will keep me busy this year.

Lentil It Be


Lentils and greens, two more New Year’s foods. This choice was as much to return to better eating as for any illusion of influencing the cosmos in my favor. With typical American gusto, I’ve noshed my way through the holidays. Enjoyable, but time to return to reality.

Lentils with pasta, canned tomatoes, and arugula was a long-time lunch favorite. The arugula held its rewarding crunch for several days. Amazing. But for reasons unknown, this dish fell off the radar. Perhaps I simply ate it one too many times, dispelling the charm. So I reworked the recipe for the new year.

Two shallots cooked with the lentils. Added kale both cooked and fresh; ditto the tomato. Pasta seemed superfluous. Lunch perfection. Having forgotten the expansion factor of soaking lentils, I’ll be enjoying this for several days.

Almost good enough to forget Saturday’s fail: I attempted to make kransekake on December 31. Is that the last fail of last year or the first fail of the new year? The recipe in the fairly recently produced seminal work on Nordic cooking looked amazingly simple and straightforward. A little egg white, some sugar — grating the marzipan appeared to be the hardest part. Ha! Looking back, it’s almost as though the author included the recipe with an air of dismissive disdain, an embarrassing must.

When the goal is a fairly dry dough, add wet to dry ingredients until the desired consistency is achieved. Again, something I realized in retrospect after following the lauded author’s recipe. Recipes later culled from the interwebs indicated either heat or cold to get the right consistency. (The recipe on Nordic Food & Living seems worth a go.) And clearly a boatload of elbow grease is needed to get the marzipan thoroughly incorporated. Previously, the closest I’ve come to marzipan is the character on Homestar Runner.

Since there was no way to firm up the soggy dough, I decided to bake some cookie-ish rounds in hopes of salvaging the experiment and getting something I could taste for reference. Watching the rounds expand, I upped the oven temp for a quicker set — which did nothing for the set and gave the round blobs a Florida-grade tan. I can only bear to share a tiny pic of the result.


The taste is quite nice — kind of an almond-flavored toasted marshmallow. And I was smart enough to make only a small batch on a silicon mat, reducing waste and clean up.

Perhaps tomorrow I’ll watch a few episodes of the Great British Baking Show while eating a bowl of lentils and kale to ready myself for the next challenge.



(her)Ring in the New Year


Many good things happend in 2016. Positives notwithstanding, however, the year had a few pretty craptastic events that tainted many of the days. Several unpleasant-if-mundane realities occurred — things that happen to everyone but had an extra layer of, well, crap.

After much deliberation, I have determined the cause to be herring. Specifically, the New Year’s pickled herring.

Eating pickled herring on December 31 and the next day (superstitions only work if you cover all possibilities. . .) is the only New Year’s tradition I have observed without fail since childhood. There’s a little quirky history behind it that I love — acknowledging the uncertainty of the future while hoping for good fortune.

Rewind to the last day of 2015 when I found myself without a jar of pickled herring. Dashed to the closest grocery store. While I couldn’t tell you the name of the brand that’s ubiquitously available, I can tell you it wasn’t stocked at this store. Something told me what was available was inferior, but I bought it anyway. Inferior it was. Mushy, not much flavor, and way too sweet.

Well, look how that turned out.

Determined not to let this unpleasant fate befall another year, I planned and purchased with intent and purpose: A month ahead I took advantage of being near IKEA, cooler in the car.

In the words of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, “Hallelujah, noel, be it heaven or hell, the Christmas we get we deserve.” Clearly the sentiment extends to the following week’s holiday. And I, for one, am starting 2017 with forethought and positive action.

May the new year bring you unexpected opportunities for joy and ample rewards for your efforts.








Christmas Cooking Surprise

My first go at making Parmesan Mousse went well, but the surprise came in the spoils.


Onions and rosemary are cooked and steeped in heavy cream. Their flavoring work complete, they’re strained out and discarded. Looking at the strainer, I couldn’t help but take a flavor-filled bite. Some of the parm clings to the onion bits.

Hmmm. Grab a small leftover potato. Slice up a tomato. Combine and heat in the microwave, then broil for a few minutes in the toaster oven. In between those cooking steps, soft-cook an egg (I did a 6-minute steam). Top potato-tomato mix with cooked onion spoils and the egg.


Sometimes I surprise myself — in this case, delightfully so!

Here’s another quirk: The onions are mild since they’ve been well cooked; a good choice for me because I don’t like strong onions in breakfast dishes. But then I generously topped the dish with Frank’s Hot Sauce. . .

Merry Christmas to all; may the day bring you happy surprises.







Woodland Worry Walks


On a recent flight I read the airline magazine. A pleasant read, well-suited to the audience and timeframe. The article on forest bathing stuck with me. Forest bathing is a health activity of Japanese origin that is, in brief, a slow, mindful walk in the deep woods. Look around, take in the details, and breathe deeply because apparently there’s some very good stuff in forest air. While I’d heard the term, I hadn’t paid it much attention, but on this short flight there wasn’t much else clamoring for my attention.

Our daily dog walks are not slow, and since we walk the same trails frequently there isn’t much gawking at the minutia. The story brought to the fore how I actually walk in these familiar woods — in cold weather head down to be sure I’m not stepping on ice, (as noted) always quickly, usually discussing daily woes with the hubs. At least twice a week either or both of us gets worked into a froth about something.

Occasionally I snap out of it and snap a pic of something interesting — at least I’m somewhat aware of my surroundings. So while I may be getting the aerobic benefit, I am clearly missing any additional benefits. Plus, these walks don’t take us into anything that could be labeled a forest, just some well-wooded acreage.

On the New Year’s Resolution list: Enjoy the great outdoors. With the crazy pup’s high energy, a key reason for the activity, that won’t happen on the dog walk. But I’m pretty sure nature is available to experience at almost any other time. . .











Stock Up!

Have you noticed? Lately I’m compelled to add exclamation points to my headlines. Maybe I’m just that excited about the holidays. In this case, the reason was to make it ‘sound’ like a short-order cook calling out from the kitchen.


Big batch of stock from turkey and chicken bones – Chickey? Turken? Whatever the name, it is yummy and we’ve got a lot of it. I’m thinking butternut squash risotto, because wait until you see the size of the butternut squash I bought at — surprise, not! — Costco!






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