Okay, I’m back home from Detroit. I didn’t post during my trip since something was wrong with my aunt and uncle’s wifi, and I was occupied with other stuff anyway. I guess I could’ve posted from my smartphone, but it didn’t occur to me as something I needed to do.
I had a nice visit with Aunt Shirley and Cousin Cynthia, though Uncle Harry was away with my other cousins because of health issues delaying his return home. I wish him a speedy recovery. Thanks to Shirley’s vegetarian cooking, I tried my first Thai food, rice noodles with satay (peanut and coconut) sauce, and found it fairly interesting. I generally don’t care for Asian cuisine because I’m not fond of soy sauce or sweet-and-sour sauce, and I’d heard that Thai food was very spicy so I wasn’t tempted to try it, but I like peanuts and coconuts, so this was agreeable. The other favorite home-prepared thing I had was some sweet-potato gnocchi that we had along with spinach and onion omelets (another thing I usually don’t eat — I’m not an egg person, generally). And on my last full day, we got a nice “spinach supreme” pizza from a local place, and I got to take a few pieces with me for lunch on the drive home and dinner when I got back.
One evening I went on a bike ride with Shirley and Uncle Clarence (who lives nearby), and it’s fortunate it was a slow ride; I didn’t bring my own bike, and the only one available was a rather unusually structured one that wasn’t quite recumbent but had a seat with a back you could lean against. I don’t remember the brand name of it — something that started with Re-. (Edit: Cynthia tells me it’s a Revive.) It took a little getting used to, particularly since I’m out of practice at bike-riding anyway (I’ll avoid the obvious joke), but I did okay for the relatively brief duration of the ride.
And I finally got a chance to look through what we call “The Grampa Book,” a Bennett family genealogy that was compiled some decades ago, but that my father never got a copy of because he wasn’t very family-oriented. I do recall getting to see it at least once before, but that was many years ago, and in my more recent family interactions, it wasn’t until now that we actually tracked it down for me to look at. I learned a number of things I hadn’t known before, even about my own branch of the family. I never knew, for instance, that my maternal grandmother had the same first name as my sister. I lost touch with that side of the family after we lost my mother, and I was very young when that happened, so I only knew my maternal grandmother as “Grandmama.” (Which was how I distinguished her from my other grandmother, “Grandma.”) But I learned some other things too. For instance, a couple of my ancestors testified at the only colonial witch trial held outside of Massachusetts, a 1692 trial in Fairfield, Connecticut of an alleged witch named Mercy Disbrow or Disborough. Unfortunately they testified on the wrong side, against her. She was convicted, but spared due to a technicality. (Cousin Cynthia once just randomly discovered that an acquaintance of hers was descended from Mercy Disbrow, a rather astonishing coincidence.)
Also, it turns out that some of my paternal ancestors were a lot more religious than my grandfather and his progeny — his older siblings included some people with unusual Biblical names, like Philander Bennett (it originally meant “lover of men,” as in a philanthropist, but it seems to have gotten confused to mean “a loving man” at some point) and Zadok Alonzo Bennett. I think I’m going to swipe “Zadok” as a Vulcan name in my current novel.
And I finally found out where the Bennetts came from. I’ve known since my first, long-ago glimpse of The Grampa Book that my ancestors have been in the US since colonial times, but I was never clear on where they came from before that. It turns out that the first Bennett in the New World, James Bennett, was born in County Kent, England around 1616. He may have been the son of a tailor named Jacobus Bennett of Appledore (who’s listed in the Canterbury marriage licenses, 1609), but there’s no proof of that. He sailed in December 1634 aboard a ship called the Hercules of Sandwich, which sounds like a slogan for a fast-food offering. He was one of seven servants of a yeoman (i.e. landowning farmer or minor nobleman) named Nathaniel Tilden, the former mayor of Tenterden in Kent and the most prominent passenger aboard the Hercules. They settled in the colony of Scituate, Massachusetts, where Tilden became ruling elder of its first church. I find a number of online sites about the Hercules and its passengers, but poor James B. tends to get lumped anonymously under “servants” in the manifests. Most of my other paternal ancestors seem to be English, mainly from the home counties (i.e. southeast England around London) but some from around Yorkshire or Hereford as well as one from Scotland. Although apparently my paternal grandmother’s ancestry was largely German.
Unfortunately the family genealogy doesn’t go back beyond the first generation of colonists in the 1600s, since the compiler never got the chance to visit England and continue his research there. Still, it’s nice to know this much. I’ve always been an Anglophile, so it’s cool to know I have roots over there. And I’m rather pleased to find I’m descended from a commoner rather than a nobleman.
(I’m afraid I don’t know much about my maternal ancestors, but doing a web search now for my mother’s rather uncommon maiden name suggests that they were originally from Scotland, part of a wave of Scots and Irish settlers who came to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia in the 1770s — and apparently never left, since that’s where my mother was from.)
Well, my smartphone did prove useful on my trip. I was able to use a weather radar app I downloaded to warn me when a rainstorm was approaching, which let me sit it out at a rest area while it passed, and I was able to pass the time websurfing on my phone. Although that kind of backfired, since I then ran straight into a severe traffic jam, and by the time I finally got up to Michigan over an hour behind schedule, I ran into the afternoon rain I’d been hoping to avoid, as well as rush hour traffic. Oh, and having unlimited texting was really helpful, because it let me text ahead and let the folks know when to expect me, including updates on my delays. I also used a gas price app to find the least expensive fuel along the route (in the Toledo area), and GPS to get directions to that station and then back to I-75, and then for the final leg to my aunt’s house — although I think I misunderstood an instruction and took the wrong turn, but that just put me on the route I usually take anyway and the phone GPS adapted. However, I found that GPS use really drained the battery, so I had to plug in the backup battery pack that Cousin Mark got me last Christmas. I’d been thinking of getting a car lighter to USB adapter, but I thought I’d try going without one this time to assess the need. The verdict is that next time I really should have one.
Still, as cool as the GPS navigator is, it’s the sort of thing that would work best if I had a passenger to monitor the phone for me so I could keep my eye on the road. Although I suppose they probably make some kind of bracket for placing the phone on top of the dashboard, so I wouldn’t have to glance down at the phone in the cupholder.
The GPS was of mixed use on the trip home. It was helpful for directing me from my aunt’s house to I-75 (a route I’d taken before and brought along printed instructions for, but it was handy to have the directions read aloud to me), and then I didn’t think I’d need it anymore. But I hit rush-hour traffic getting into Greater Cincinnati, so I decided to take an early exit and make my way to a familiar road. But at first I wasn’t sure whether the computer was trying to direct me back to the interstate or not, so I had to pull into a parking lot and pull up the list of directions to make sure it was directing me to the route I wanted. It was, and it even corrected me when I took a wrong turn shortly thereafter (since I was coming at a familiar intersection from a new direction and got confused). But then I realized that it was, indeed, trying to direct me to the next I-75 on-ramp. Fortunately, by that point I already knew the rest of the way home, so I could turn it off. Otherwise, my drive home was uneventful, except for hitting a brief, fierce rainstorm not far out from home. Although I guess most rain is fierce when you’re driving through it at highway speeds.
I managed to get some writing done on the trip; on the drive up, I was able to work out how to proceed with the scene I’d begun before I left, and I got it finished by Saturday evening. Also, Cynthia (who’s from the Bay Area) was able to give me some insights into San Francisco for some material set around Starfleet Headquarters in my novel, so that was helpful. But then I let my mind wander to other things, so now I need to get back to work. The vacation is over.
I really ought to post something about New York Comic-Con, but I’ve been too busy or too tired. I’ll try to keep it concise.
I ended up driving after all due to the cost of plane fare after waiting so long to buy tickets. I planned out my route carefully this time, so it went fairly smoothly — but I set out too early on the second day and had a hard time staying alert. I didn’t really feel recovered until after lunch. So on the way back, I think I’ll spend the morning of the second day in the motel just resting, then get a good lunch, then drive the rest of the way home.
I’ve been staying with friend and fellow author Keith R.A. DeCandido, his fiancee, a family friend, several cats, and a large Golden Retriever. I was nervous about the latter, but he’s a friendly dog and I’ve been getting used to having him around. Indeed, there’s something reassuring about knowing a dog that big is sleeping outside your bedroom door, on sentry duty as it were.
The two days I spent at the con are kind of a blur right now, so to sum up: both my signings on Friday went pretty well. The GraphicAudio booth is in a good location and drew a lot of attention from passersby, and we got to sell a number of copies of my audiobooks, along with free copies of the prose books as a bonus — courtesy of Tor in the case of Only Superhuman, plus a few Spider-Man; Drowned in Thunder copies which I provided myself. I was expecting Tor to be offering the paperback, but their giveaway copies (half of which I took over to GA, the rest of which I signed for them to give out at Tor’s booth) were hardcovers instead. I guess that makes sense — they want to use up the stock now that people will mostly be buying the MMPB. But it made it more of a slog to carry them over to the GA booth through the Comic-Con crowd. Anyway, the giveaway copies moved pretty well, I was told. My A Choice of Futures signing at the SImon & Schuster booth went well too; this time people actually came to see me specifically rather than just happening to pass by.
I got to talk with a number of colleagues — Keith, of course, and the GA people, and fellow Trek author Kevin Dilmore, who works for Hallmark and was manning their display. It was nice to catch up with him. Unfortunately my former Trek editor Marco Palmieri, now at Tor, was too busy to talk much. I also had fun meeting Lilly, a friend of Keith’s who’s a professional balloon artist, and who performed at his booth to attract passersby. It’s an interesting craft, improvisational yet requiring a lot of meticulous manual control and precision.
Today I just stayed in and rested while Keith et al. went in to the con. I needed a day of quiet to recover before undertaking the drive home tomorrow. I did go down to the local pizza place for lunch, though, and had an excellent slice of white pizza with spinach.
That’s all for now. Maybe I’ll mention more details later, if any come to mind.
Well, that fancy new collagen matrix that was supposed to replace my lost gum tissue hasn’t worked out too well. The doctor says I’ll have to come back in for the standard gum-graft procedure where they take some existing gum tissue from elsewhere in my mouth. So I’ll have to go through that same procedure a second time, only it’ll be more unpleasant. Ugh. At least I get to wait a few weeks, since right now I’m busy finishing up Tower of Babel and right after that I have the Shore Leave convention.
At least for now, I’m finally able to resume a normal diet. For about six weeks, I had to avoid biting into anything with my front teeth. I managed to have the occasional peanut butter sandwich or hot dog by cutting it into pieces with a knife, but it just wasn’t the same. For the moment, I’m back to normal and enjoying getting to bite into stuff again.
I actually had a pretty full head of lettuce in the fridge when this started, wrapped in a towel inside a plastic bag with a hole or two poked in it for ventilation and stored in the back of the crisper drawer. I’ve been afraid to take a look at it, expecting it to be badly wilted at best, if not rotten. But to my astonishment, it was still quite crisp and pristine. I guess that storage method really works. I’m not entirely sure it’s actually been in there for six weeks — that seems unlikely — but I can’t think why I would’ve bought lettuce in the interim, since I couldn’t have burgers or sandwiches with crunchy stuff in them.
Unfortunately, now that I can have sandwiches again, I’ve discovered that two of the local sandwich places I frequented, Arby’s and Jersey Mike’s, have both closed, and the nearest remaining ones of both are across the river in Kentucky — though there are others in parts of town I occasionally have other reason to drive to, and indeed I got an Arby’s sandwich after leaving the periodontist’s office the other day, the first meal I had after being cleared to bite stuff again. Still, it’s frustrating not having them in walking distance. There are several other sandwich places locally, including two or three that just opened in the newly constructed plaza by the university, but they’re not the same.
There seems to be an increasing dearth of restaurants specializing in roast beef. There used to be one called Rax that I really liked, many years ago, but then they closed and I had to settle for Arby’s, whose roast-beef sandwiches weren’t nearly as good. Then Arby’s came out with the Market Fresh sandwiches, which were really good, but I usually had the turkey & swiss. Now Arby’s stores seem to be getting thinner on the ground. I guess maybe the trend has been toward more generalized sandwich shops that offer a variety of meats, and that’s absorbed the market for the more specialized ones (and Arby’s barely even qualifies as a roast-beef specialist anymore, even though that’s what the name means — sound it out).
But, although I’ve lost two sandwich shops within walking distance, I recently discovered that there’s a Donato’s Pizza about to open near my local post office. I’ve long been fond of their pizzas, especially their Hawaiian variety, but it’s been a long time since I’ve lived close to one of their stores. So that makes up for the loss somewhat.
I noticed the other day that a new sandwich shop called “Which Wich” has opened across the street from the local post office, so I decided to try it out. Their gimmick is that below the wall menu is a bunch of hoppers with different paper bags in them, one for each category of sandwich (e.g. turkey, ham, specialty, etc.), and printed on each bag is an order form where you can use the provided markers to check off the type of bread, toppings, etc. you want, whereupon you hand it to the cashier, who rings up your order and then hands it to the preparer to follow like a deli order slip, sliding it along until the completed sandwich reaches the end of the prep area and is inserted into the aforementioned bag. It seemed like kind of a neat idea at first, and maybe it would make things more efficient when things are busy; but I was the only customer ordering and it seemed to me that it just added more complications to the process. Even with my clearly marked instructions on the bag/form, I still had to watch the guy preparing the sandwich and remind him I’d asked for cucumber.
At least the guy had his salesmanship down, asking how my day was going and then saying it would get better once I got the sandwich. But it didn’t live up to the hype; the sandwich was okay but fairly ordinary, a lot like Potbelly or maybe Penn Station. The ordering gimmick is the main thing that distinguishes it. And I don’t know if that gimmick would really appeal to the university students who are likely to be the store’s main clientele, and who have enough bubbles to fill out on forms as it is. “Now you can have the fun of pretending to take a test while you order lunch!” Yeah, that’s a good idea…
Still,the menu did list some varieties of sandwich I haven’t seen elsewhere and might want to try, like chicken pesto or black-bean patties — and they offer spinach as well as lettuce, which is good. So if I should again happen to find myself at the post office around mealtime, I may decide to give it another try. At least it’s good to have another option.
Actually there’s a lot of new construction around the university these days, new apartment buildings going up all over the place to accommodate the student market, and there are a number of storefronts included on the ground floors. I’ve noticed a few new signs already going up closer to home, including a Mexican restaurant, a frozen yogurt place, and a Waffle House — which is cool, since I’ve long lamented the lack of a breakfast-type eatery in the area. And there’s still plenty of room for other businesses. I wonder what other dining options might materialize in the neighborhood soon.
I went for a walk today to enjoy the 70-degree weather, and I decided to take a path that would a) include a long, moderate uphill climb so I could get some decent exercise and b) bring me to an area near the university where various sandwich shops and the like were located, in case I decided to buy lunch at one of them. But I wasn’t really in the mood for the available options, though I was leaning toward one.
But then I noticed that there was some kind of food cart on the corner, and decided to investigate. It was someone giving out free samples of Sabra brand hummus. Never one to pass up free food (if it’s a kind I like, and I do like hummus), I took a couple of samples and decided my lunch selection had been made for me. I already had some pitas and vegetables in the fridge, so now I’m having hummus pitas with tomato, cucumber, and onion, and they’re reasonably good. The hummus has a little too much bite for me, but it works better blended with the other flavors, and it’s got a good texture. I think I’ll stick with the hummus mix I usually buy, but a little variety now and then isn’t bad. Especially when it’s free.
Oh, what a terrible pun. So naturally I couldn’t resist. Anyway…
Sometimes taking a chance on something new works out well — like last year when I decided to try out the Earl Grey teabag I found in a hotel room where I was staying and rather liked it. But sometimes it doesn’t work out at all — like yesterday, when I finally decided to try the bonus sample of French vanilla chai that came in the box of Earl Grey teabags I had bought as a result of that discovery. (I don’t have tea very often, so I’m still working through the first box.) Or rather, it was a blend of black tea with French vanilla and spices which I think were cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and cloves. And I found it so repulsive that I dumped it down the sink after the first test sip (well, the second, but they were really tiny sips), rinsed out the cup, and made some Earl Grey instead. What’s more, I was still detecting whiffs of its cloying aroma as recently as this morning. Not pleasant. Well, at least it was a free sample (I think).
Apparently “chai” is the term generally used in the West for a sweetened, spiced Indian variety of tea properly called Masala chai (since chai is simply the word for tea in many Asian languages), and this was apparently a pretty typical example of that in terms of the spices, though with French vanilla added. Maybe that makes sense; I gather Indian cuisine is quite spicy and aromatic. I’ve never actually tried it, though, which may be why I didn’t know the flavoring in the chai would be so overpowering. Well, now I know.
I just got back from running some errands, starting with depositing the advance check I just received for my current Star Trek novel — which I’m still not cleared to reveal any specifics about, as far as I know. It’s the second book advance I’ve gotten in as many weeks, which is a nice state of affairs.
After that, I went to the local Joseph-Beth Booksellers store so I could see my book on the shelf:
And hey, I’m almost right next to a book by my NYCC co-panelist Amber Benson!
I also introduced myself to a store manager there and tried to get a sense of how the book was doing, but that was inconclusive. They had 10 copies in stock at that store, which I’m hoping is a good sign, since at Books by the Banks (which Joseph-Beth supplied the books for), there were dozens of copies on hand. But it’s hard to be sure.
On the way out of my parking space at Joseph-Beth, my car was almost bumped into by a minivan with a Romney-Ryan bumper sticker, because its driver wasn’t paying attention. Which seems very fitting to me.
Anyway, after that came the roughest part of my trip, which was trying to take my nonfunctioning vacuum cleaner in to the local warranty service center. I wasn’t sure whether the vacuum had broken or both batteries had simultaneously died, so I hoped to get some help figuring that out and maybe getting replacement batteries if that was the issue, as well as getting the old ones recycled. But first off, I found it hard to find a parking place near the store, and had to do some extra driving and turning around and stuff to find a place I could legally park, which was a bit of a walk from the store. Then the store clerk told me he basically couldn’t do anything for me where that particular model was concerned except sell me a new one, which was only about 10 bucks more than a replacement battery would’ve cost anyway, so he said. (I checked online, and if you take tax and shipping into account, I’d say he was just about right.) My floor wasn’t getting any cleaner, so I gave in and bought the new one (which, to my disappointment, came with only one battery instead of the two my previous one came with, so I hope there’s still some life left in the old batteries after all). I’m upset that I wasn’t able to recycle the old vacuum, but at least I have some spare pieces in case I need them.
So that wasn’t too satisfying, but at least I have a functional vacuum again (hopefully). And on the way home, I noticed I was approaching a Big Boy restaurant. I’d just been thinking, not long ago, that it had been too long since I’d been to Big Boy and had one of their Buddie Boy ham sandwiches, which I quite liked. So I went in and did that, and it was very good, as were the baked apples I had on the side. Plus I saw they were advertising their pumpkin pie, and I remembered that they had a wonderful pumpkin pie, so I had a piece of that for dessert, and it was wonderful. So that was a lovely bit of serendipity and I feel very satisfied now — though it didn’t help with my efforts to lose some weight and get back into shape.
UPDATE: I just tried the new vacuum’s battery in the old vacuum, and it worked. So I only needed a new battery after all, not a new vacuum. I wonder if it’s worth it to return the vacuum and just order a replacement battery. Or maybe it’s a good idea to keep the new vacuum on hand just in case the old one does break down.
While recovering from my frenectomy, I’ve been having to adjust my eating habits so as to avoid anything I need to bite into, like sandwiches, hot dogs, pizza, etc. Actually I can have those as long as I cut them into bite-size pieces (an ironic apellation for pieces you don’t need to bite into), and I have done that a couple of times, but that’s kind of awkward.
I wanted to avoid hot foods for the first few days (the instructions only said 24 hours, but I’m extra-cautious), so I made some pasta salad of my own once I used up the varieties I got from the grocery-store deli (only one of which I liked). I used some multicolor rotini I had on hand, broccoli, cucumber, green pepper, cherry tomatoes, and canned chicken (which I figured would be softer than the frozen diced chicken I generally use) with olive oil, Italian dressing, and grated parmesan. I made nearly five servings’ worth, so when I went to the store a couple of days ago, I picked up some feta cheese and added some of that to the pasta salad; and I supplemented the final serving with more tomatoes and cucumber. So there was a little variety instead of just being the same thing over and over.
Also at the grocery store deli, I looked for other types of thing I could try, now that I wasn’t limited to cold foods anymore. I came upon a tub of chicken and sausage gumbo, and I thought that gumbo was something I’d tried before and not minded, so I bought it. Only afterward did I remember that what I’d tried before wasn’t gumbo, but jambalaya. But I was stuck with the gumbo, so I tried it, and I’m not crazy about it. It’s too spicy, and the pork sausage flavor is way too dominant. I’m thinking maybe when I have the rest of it, I’ll dump the remaining feta into it, in the hope that a dairy product will ameliorate the spiciness some, and just to make it taste different. I have no idea if that will be any good, but I have to use these things up somehow.
As of this afternoon, it will have been a week since my procedure, so I’m halfway to the point where I can start eating normally again. Still, knowing me, I’ll probably be overcautious and wait a few days longer.
Well, I finished my outline for the new Star Trek novel today and turned it in. I sought out the opinions of a couple of my colleagues, since I’m undertaking something new and I wanted to make sure it worked, and they seem to think it works pretty well. Hopefully I’ll get to talk about it soon, though with the way things work these days, the news is likely to break when some online catalog gets updated.
What I can talk about is what I did afterward. Recently, I’ve begun buying fresh green bell peppers from the store instead of settling for the diced frozen ones in bags (although I still do freeze most of each new pepper for later use, since I’m only one person). And now that I’ve gotten used to buying whole peppers, I became oddly possessed with the desire to take the next step and stuff one of the things. To my surprise, though, none of my (three, count ‘em) cookbooks had a recipe for stuffed bell peppers, even though at least two of them are supposed to be about essential guidelines for cooking anything. So I searched online, and found a surprising lack of consistency in the available recipes. By the time I sorted out enough of the essential principles to formulate a plan (yesterday), the pepper I had in the fridge had been sitting too long, so I chopped it up and froze most of it, and then went grocery shopping with the intent to buy another one (along with other groceries). But the local supermarket didn’t have any decently fresh ones (or a couple of other things I was looking for), and since I found that out at the start of my shopping, I decided to drive to a more distant supermarket to do my shopping.
So this afternoon, after turning in my outline, I went to work, making sure I had plenty of time to prepare the meal. I scooped out the pepper, I parboiled it for 5 minutes, I sauteed some onions, garlic, and veggie crumble, I poured in some diced tomatoes and instant rice, then I stuffed that mix and some grated cheddar inside the pepper and put it in a baking dish (meat loaf pan, actually — all I have) with spaghetti sauce coating the bottom and more poured over the pepper (I guess to moisten it so it didn’t burn?), then covered the pan in aluminum foil and baked at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes. I had some trouble figuring out how to get the pepper out of the boiling water and splashed some on my hand, though it didn’t hurt as much or do as much damage as I would’ve thought (Leidenfrost effect, maybe?). Otherwise it went pretty smoothly, except the pepper I got was a bit lopsided on the bottom and I had to prop it up along an edge of the pan so stuff wouldn’t spill. And then when I took it out and put it on the plate, it tipped over and split open anyway. Although it was all still on the plate, so it was just a messy presentation. I had a knife and fork ready to eat it with per online instructions, but when I saw how it looked, I got a soup spoon and ended up eating it with that. The pepper was tender enough that the spoon cut it easily.
So how was it? Pretty good, I guess. Interesting, though not hugely different from the kind of stuff I occasionally make using roughly the same ingredients but with the pepper diced up and mixed in. It was a nice experiment and a reasonably satisfying meal, but I derived more satisfaction from having cooked it than I did from eating it. Ultimately I don’t think it was worth all the trouble I went to in order to make it — plus all the dishes I have to wash later. I don’t think I’ve ever expended so much time and so many cooking vessels and utensils for just a single food item. I’m not sure it would be worth repeating the experiment, at least not until I move to a place with a dishwasher. But at least now I can say I’ve done it.
After finishing off that jar of Cincinnati chili last week, I still had about one serving’s worth of kidney beans left over, so today I decided to attempt concocting a rough approximation of chili for dinner. My concoction consisted of some lightly browned veggie crumble; the beans; diced onions, green pepper, and tomato; chopped garlic; a spoonful or so of tomato paste; and some oregano, salt, and black pepper. (I included some of the ingredients based on the chili recipe in the cookbook my sister and brother-in-law sent me a while back, so thanks to them for that.)
My first thought had been to have it over egg noodles, but I used those up last week, so I decided to have it atop spaghetti instead, and I grated some cheddar on top. It wasn’t bad, but it could maybe have used a little more liquid (should’ve added more of the liquid the beans were in, maybe). And it could’ve used a little more “heat” as well. I don’t think it really qualified as actual chili since it didn’t have any chiles in it, except for the mild green pepper. As it was, it turned out a little bland. Still, for an experimental concoction based on what I happened to have on hand (plus the tomato paste, which I bought specifically with this in mind), it turned out reasonably well. And it’s always nice when I get up the initiative to try something new in the kitchen.
Well, except for the cleanup part. I really wish I had a dishwasher.
Last week, I got a bag of frozen spinach-and-cheese ravioli at the store, and I failed to realize how big it was before I dumped the whole thing into the pot. (It’s been a while since I had ravioli, so I’m a little rusty. I was thinking in terms of those smaller packages that are only 2-3 servings.) So I ended up with a whooollle lotta leftover ravioli in the fridge, four meals’ worth in addition to the first helping I had. Thus, I’ve spent the past several days trying to devise a different topping for each one.
I had the first helping with alfredo sauce (so I could finish off the jar), which was okay. But for the second, I decided to do something experimental as a way of using up some more leftovers. Earlier I’d gotten a jar of vegetarian Cincinnati-style chili, which I hadn’t enjoyed too much in the context of a 4-way (served atop spaghetti with diced onions and grated cheddar) or a cheese coney (same toppings on a hot dog), but that was reasonably good when I got a can of kidney beans to make a 5-way (which should be self-explanatory at this point). But that left me with a lot of leftover kidney beans as well as chili, and I decided to top my second helping of ravioli with chili and beans. Which worked surprisingly well, I thought.
The third serving was topped with red sauce and sauteed onions and green peppers — which was kind of disappointing, I think because that brand and variety of red sauce didn’t work well in that context. The fourth was simply with olive oil, a chopped garlic clove, basil, and oregano, along with a salad. That was rather good, particularly thanks to the garlic. And today I had the final serving, which I had with the same red sauce (I usually only have one jar at a time), but I added turkey meatballs and peas to the mix and sprinkled on some parmesan. That was actually pretty interesting too. Though maybe not quite as interesting as the chili ravioli.
Now I’m finally out of leftover ravioli. So what’s for supper…?
At the grocery store the other day, I decided on an impulse to buy one of those clear plastic trays of fresh-ish pasta, specifically a chicken-prosciutto tortellini. I was thinking it might be a way to make use of the jar of light alfredo sauce I picked up the previous week (which I used to make Italian sausage fettucine alfredo, because I haven’t had alfredo sauce in a while and wanted a change of pace). But when I was about to start cooking it, I decided that I should instead just toss it in olive oil and grated parmesan, so the flavor of the tortellini wouldn’t be covered by a heavy sauce. I had that alongside broccoli cuts, and I actually found it a little bland; I even ended up mixing the tortellini and broccoli together to make it a little more interesting.
Now, there were 30 tortellini in the package, enough for three equal servings, so I had enough leftovers for two more meals. I was going to put alfredo on the second serving yesterday, but I ended up going over to the university library to do some writing, and afterward I discovered there was a new pizza-by-the-slice concession in the student union, so my lunch was a slice of vegetarian pizza. After that, I didn’t want to have another cheese/dairy-heavy meal in the same day, so for dinner I had the second serving of tortellini with red sauce (and more parmesan), with baby lima beans as a side dish. That was better, but still just okay.
So today I finally had the last serving with alfredo sauce, and I also mixed in some peas and freshly ground black pepper, and served along with a slice of garlic toast. And it was excellent. The taste of the tortellini filling wasn’t overwhelmed by the sauce, but instead they complemented each other fairly well. And the peas were a very good idea.
I know in theory that different kinds of pasta are designed with different sauces in mind — their shapes are meant to hold onto different types and thicknesses of sauce — but I’ve never really explored how they go together, so it’s just been trial and error — or, more usually, just using whatever I happened to have on hand. But my experiments with the tortellini were a good illustration of how different sauces fit with different foods. And it’s good that I saved the best combination for last.
I’m back home now, and the drive back was almost as bad as the drive out. I had a few hours of clear skies in Maryland and Western Pennsylvania, but it was raining by the time I got off the Turnpike and it just got worse from there. Just before dark fell, I reached Cambridge again and tried to get a room at the same motel as before, but they wouldn’t take the coupon from the booklet you can pick up at freeway rest stops, and the baseline price was more than twice as much. The clerk told me that none of the area motels would take the coupons that day because of the imminent start of hunting season in the area (yikes). And I already had a takeout meal cooling in the car in expectation of having a motel room to eat it in. So I had to drive to a nearby parking lot, eat my dinner, then drive for another half-hour or so in the rain and dark, an experience I do not recommend, before reaching Zanesville and trying my luck with a motel there. Hooray, they honored the coupons, although it wasn’t as good a place to stay as the other motel — no wifi, no continental breakfast. (It did have a fridge and microwave, but I didn’t need them.) And I didn’t get much sleep. After that, I was only about three hours’ drive from home, but what with increasingly bad rain and fatigue, it wasn’t a pleasant journey, and I took a couple of long rest-stop breaks (one of them had to be long since I had to wait for the piping-hot vending-machine tea to cool down). I couldn’t even listen to a CD to help keep me alert, since there was too much noise from the rain and my squeaky wipers. I finally made it home, but I got rained on during the three trips it took to unpack my bags and bike from the car, and the strap broke off of a bag I liked because I put too much weight in it (which is why I needed three trips instead of two). It was the reusable tote bag that came with my new printer as a greener alternative to plastic/foam packing. A cool idea, but not too durable.
At least I had consistently good weather during my visit with family, though that just makes the horrible weather on both drives seem more unfair. It was a good visit, but I’m glad I don’t have to deal with any more huge meals for a while. I ate entirely too much over the trip, and not just due to Thanksgiving dinner and the Thanksgiving-leftovers brunch. On Saturday I met my sister, my cousin, and their respective families in town for a museum visit preceded by lunch at a tapas bar, which involves getting a succession of small servings of stuff that are shared among the diners or kept to oneself as preferred. I ordered at least one more course than I should have, and came away rather stuffed. But just a few hours later came cousin-in-law Mark’s early birthday dinner, which entailed a large number of German foodstuffs. Even though I’ve lived my entire life in Cincinnati, a town that’s historically had a large German population, this was my first exposure to German cuisine. A lot of it, while surely well-prepared, wasn’t really to my taste, but I really enjoyed the sauerbraten, which was wonderfully tender beef in what was described to me as a kind of sweet-and-sour sauce. I never liked Asian sweet-and-sour sauces, so I wasn’t expecting to like this, but it was excellent. Still, on top of everything else, I was full to bursting by the end of it.
And then this morning, after leaving the motel, I made the mistake of going to Denny’s for breakfast. Don’t get me wrong, the food was excellent; I ordered a pair of seasonal pumpkin-pie-flavored pancakes and they were delicious, as one would expect from pumpkin-pie-flavored pancakes. But there was just too dang much of it. There are limits to how much good food I can stand. I think I’m going to try to eat very lightly for the next few days.
I was starting to miss the precooked, frozen turkey meatballs I found at a fairly distant grocery store a while back, so I decided to search harder for such a thing at my local grocery store. My search led me to a section of the frozen-meats department that I usually overlooked, and I found a package of store-brand turkey meatballs, which I tried today on top of spaghetti. Unfortunately, the store-brand meatballs aren’t as good as the other ones. They’re blander in flavor. And they aren’t even meatballs, more like stubby cylinders, as if they were extruded and cut mechanically. I guess that’s what you get when you buy the store brand, but I couldn’t find any other varieties there.
Oh, well. Maybe they’ll be better if I brown them in a pan rather than heating them in sauce in the microwave.
I came across an interesting new flavor of Campbell’s soup at the grocery store, an orange tomato soup. No, it’s not made of oranges and tomatoes, but of an unusual orange variety of tomato. By coincidence, I only recently discovered those existed; when I stayed with my friends Dave and Kara for New York Comic-Con, we had some in a salad, IIRC. So when I saw there was a soup using them, I was curious. It’s pretty interesting. Orange tomatoes have a… well, I’m not sure my flavor descriptions are accurate, but they seem a bit sweeter and creamier, less acid and tangy than red tomatoes (although some of that may be the other soup ingredients). Maybe even a bit like squash or even carrot, though maybe that perception is influenced by the color. Anyway, they’re an interesting variation. I was just at Findlay Market picking up a new head of Romaine lettuce, and I looked to see if they had any orange tomatoes, but apparently not. Maybe they aren’t in season anymore, or they’re rare. The Internet says they’re an “heirloom” variety, which would seem to mean both of those things are true. Well, at least I have the soup.
Not having many other lunch options in the kitchen, I decided to make some hummus mix (and added a bit of honey since it tends to be a little harsh), and my lunch is two halves of a garlic-oregano pita filled with hummus, cucumber, onion, and kalamata olives. It’s good.
Recently I got a flier in the mail for a local farmer’s market that would be held today within walking distance of my apartment, so I went over there this morning to check it out. I was expecting something big and well-attended like Findlay Market or the one in Hyde Park on Sundays, but it was just two people operating two tables next to a hospital building. I walked right by them at first, thinking they must be some peripheral operation and I’d find the real place a block further along, but then I realized I could see the end of the street and there was nothing else there. And the two tables had a limited selection, so I couldn’t find a head of Romaine lettuce or a garlic bulb like I wanted.
I did pick up a tomato, though, plus I decided to indulge a whim and buy an ear of corn. I don’t think I’ve held an unshucked ear of corn since I was a kid visiting my relatives in Detroit. So I had to ask for cooking advice on Facebook. But it turned out very nicely, very fresh and sweet and flavorful.
Plus I got a nice long walk out of it — long enough that I was thoroughly winded (though not as badly as when I climbed the steps of Mt. Seleya to get home from Findlay Market that time). But that’s good, because I need the exercise.
For dinner today, I had some of that fettucine I bought at the Farmer’s Market on Sunday. It was dried pasta, but apparently fresh (or whatever) enough that it only needed 3-4 minutes in the water; it started to soften almost immediately after I put it in the water. I’m not used to that from the grocery-store pasta I usually get. I served it under some red sauce and precooked/frozen turkey meatballs that are a bit past their prime but still fairly good. But the pasta was very good. It’s made with olive oil, and olive oil makes just about everything better.
It’s certainly an improvement over the last fettucine I tried. The thing is, the stores no longer seem to carry the brand of whole-wheat fettucine I used to have (Hodgson Mill — they still have a few other things from them, but not fettucine). So I’ve been trying to find some alternative, and the first thing I tried was a “multicolor” variety with various vegetable flavors. Seemed like a good idea in theory, but it turned out to be too rubbery and not very good. So I tried again, and that led me to this pasta. Although, ironically, later on my Sunday trip I went to a Whole Foods Market in the area and found some whole wheat fettucine at last. In retrospect I realize I should’ve tried the local organic food store — they might’ve had some too.
But then I wouldn’t have gotten this nice pasta at the Farmer’s Market, so I guess it’s just as well I didn’t. But now I’ve got three different types of fettucine in my kitchen cabinet. Which I guess is not a bad thing.
As I think I’ve mentioned before, I’ve given up buying lettuce at the grocery store because they constantly spray it with water, making it rot faster and wasting my money and theirs. (I think they do it so the greens won’t wilt, but wilted greens can be completely restored by soaking them in water for a while, but rotten greens are simply lost.) Instead, I go down to Findlay Market, the main produce market in the city, and buy it there. But this weekend I had some other stuff I wanted to shop for that was in the Hyde Park/Oakley area (where I lived for about the first 26 years of my life), so I decided to check online to see if there were any other produce markets in that part of town. And I discovered the Hyde Park Farmer’s Market, which is apparently held every Sunday morning (at least during the summer) in Hyde Park Square, one of my favorite hangouts of old. I’m surprised I never knew about this, but it’s been quite a while since I lived over there.
I got there to find that the block of Erie Avenue containing the square (which is actually more of a really long oval, or rather an oblong with rounded ends) had been closed to traffic, so that the various vendors’ booths could be set up in the street or parking spaces and pedestrians could move freely. I had to park a fair distance away, actually pretty close to where I used to live, so it was a familiar walk. I didn’t find any lettuce; the one booth that carried it had sold out by the time I arrived, alas. But I had a nice piece of Greek-style vegetarian pizza and a strawberry scone, and bought some organic fettucine (or some similar type of pasta) which I’ll try later. And it was a nice place to wander around in for a while, a nice atmosphere to take in. It’s not an indulgence I could afford every weekend — since it’s a fair drive to get to that part of town and back — but it’s nice to know it’s there for future reference.
(And I thought about going to Findlay Market for lettuce, but the inbound freeway traffic was quite backed up, perhaps for some sporting event or other downtown, so I didn’t want to chance it today. Luckily my freeway trip to Hyde Park is on the outbound side, and I took so-called “surface roads” back home. Why are non-freeway roads called surface roads? It’s not like the freeway is underground or in the air, most of the time.)
I decided to have another turkey-meatball hoagy for dinner tonight, in hopes of achieving it successfully this time. I used several of the modifications I proposed in my earlier post: I toasted the bun more fully, I put the cheese on the bottom bun so it wouldn’t get soggy from the red sauce, and I kept the bread out of the microwave (after putting the cheese on the bun, I put it in the toaster oven for a bit to soften in the residual heat). And this time it actually worked as a sandwich that I could hold in my hands — though a fair amount of sauce, onions, and peppers fell out onto the plate or my napkin (both times, I’ve made sure to have a napkin tucked into my collar to protect my shirt). And it was a good sandwich.
But I think maybe I ate too much too fast or something, since now I have the hiccups.