January 4, 2018: Exercise, Eating, Birds, Resolutions
Androp is a model for consistency when it comes to exercise. He went to the gym the EXACT same number of days in 2017 as in 2016.
The number of recoded bike rides was almost identical as well. Nonetheless, the amount of weight gained increased year over year. Food possesses devastating allure, based on evolutionary mandates (e.g. fats, sweets, and salts were in short supply for early hominoids). Sedentary activities dominate work and leisure time, and basal metabolic rates have been conclusively observed to decline with age. None of this helps an aging individual maintain their ‘ideal’ weight.
Days of sub-freezing temperatures resulted in frenetic activity at the feeder and backyard bird sauna (heated bird bath). Visitors from the west were taken with the beauty of the Northern Cardinals which are common at the feeder. At least one Red-breasted Nuthatch, fairly rarely seen in past years, has been a regular visitor to the suet feeder. Barnabas the Barred Owl was seen swooping in and taking a White-throated Sparrow. The latter seem to be seen as fun-sized, savory chunks of meat by the backyard predators.
If a human only has so much will-power, it should be saved for emergency use. Examples may include repeatedly going blind to the antics of he who must not be named in order to avoid a heart attack, or not laughing or calling someone a ‘moron’ in a professional meeting. For this reason, Androp has never been into New Year’s resolutions: they represent an unnecessary squandering of will power. However, in a technical break with the ‘no resolution is a good resolution’ tradition, Androp has resolved: “do better” in 2018. Note that no reference point is given (e.g. ‘than in 2016’ is implied but not stated, so this could mean do better than in 1972, or 1983, which are distant enough to be essentially unmeasurable). Also, no actual ‘better at what’ is stated. Hence, this resolution should not result in a waste of will power.
Androp’s two-year old, $685, Rancilo Miss Sylvia home espresso machine began to throw the kitchen surge protector. After viewing on-line videos of possible fixes (the heating element was implicated), the decision was made not to attempt a fix. Androp has negligible ability in terms of home repairs. It is suspected that his wife was quite relieved.
An elegant, simple solution was proposed and subsequently executed: a Bialetti Moka Espress stove-top coffee maker was purchased. The elegance is sublime: octagonal base and an 80 year old design. The resulting brew is aromatic and less better than a 15-bar pressure pulled shot, but more flavorful than boring drip coffee. Extraction is at 1 to 2 bars pressure. The Bialetti has achieved Androp’s highest level of recommendation: GJGO (Gawd, Just Get One). At around $40, you have not much to lose. .
Androp prepared two loaves of cinnamon bread and was reminded of breakfast on the bike trail. He purchased slices of bread at $2 or $3 each. Five pounds of flour costs less than $3. Of all the things to be amazed by, the fee for a single slice of toast with butter, at $2, seems supremely shocking. The bread was homemade, but not as fresh or as fragrant as what Androp can produce at home.
Lemon filled, lemon frosted, lemon cake was produced for the wife’s birthday.
This required large quantities of lemon juice and lemon zest combined with a great deal of time and effort (but not much skill, really). The result was coma-producing, but worth it.
The youngest grandchild has a new skill: opening and closing the front door. This is both exciting and panic-producing. One more can get away, and this one tends to want to escape. She is a maverick.
Finally, Androp purchased a new bicycle, after months of anguish over prices and styles. No identifiable event tripped the wire toward making the purchase, but it was nonetheless made. Intense self-loathing, post-purchase, lasted about two weeks, and has since slowly faded to simple, intermittent, moderate self-criticism. Decision points included: steel frame (not aluminum), drop handlebars (not straight), semi-upright geometry (not more aggressive; Androp is old), up-graded wheelset, and up-graded (not stock) tires.
The final contestants were the Salsa Vaya, Salsa Fargo, and Surly Long Haul Trucker. Among these, the Fargo had the must up-right geometry and was selected on that basis. About 200 miles are on the bike. One initial frustration: the disc brakes are not as simple to use and adjust as rim brakes. For most uses, rim brakes are probably better, but marketing has made the discs standard on ‘up-scale’ bikes.
June 16, 2017: BLT’s, Cupcakes, Real Estate, Getting the Right Pasta
The wife made fantastic BLTs’ without the bread. Leaves of romain lettuce, uncured bacon, and fresh tomatoes were featured (no bread). Tomatoes are the key: they need to taste reasonably like tomatoes and have moderate to high acid content. Store tomatoes often have no flavor: they appear on restaurant sandwiches. Money could be saved if those were simply replaced by cardboard soaked in red dye. Appropriate cardboard could be acquired via raids of recycling centers.
Androp hates cupcakes because (1) they generally taste awful (sweet smeared on puffy, semi-sweet, tasteless foam), (2) the containers in which they are cooked are insanely hard to wash, take up too much room in storage, and are single-use tools, and (3) they are difficult to eat gracefully. Children like them because adults give them to children as treats. The fact that this tradition ever started is proof of poor brain function among all humans. Think cookie. Think brownie. Think a granola bar. Think a slice of cake. Think, even, a fruit! An apple! A pear! A banana! Any sort of sweet treat, and even fruit, is better than a cupcake.
The bike riding has been lovely in the Midwest this spring. Favorable conditions found Androp out with young people on the trail recently. The trip was highlighted by easy conversation during the ride. The dive bar visited after the ride was stinky, smoky, stale-smelling, and filled with iffy characters. Individual pizzas from a toaster oven and horrible beer were consumed. Bike trail towns have few options.
The local relator looked surly, and had only old (though sometimes elaborately modified) trailer houses for sale.
Here’s what happens when one spouse sends another one shopping in the modern age: Pictures are taken of items on the list. Is this the right thing? Is this the right size? What did people do in the olden days?
Probably more food was wasted, and more spouses were disappointed.
April 3, 2017: Green Chile, Frogs, Morel Mushrooms, the Grinch
The culinary note involves New Mexico green chile: this is the most delicious member of the “hot” class of taste elements needed for cooking (recall that the needed elements are salt, fat and sweet, and sometimes hot and tart; see November 20, 2016 blog entry). The taste and fragrance of roasted New Mexico green chiles is indescribably inspirational: truly sublime.
Roasted chiles that retain the terroir of the Hatch Valley in New Mexico can only be purchased fresh or frozen in the late summer. Google Hatch green chile. Get the Big Jim variety (medium hot), or the Joe Parker (medium). The Anaheim chile, commonly available in grocery stores, is a Hatch chile from which all the fragrance and flavor has been sucked out and eradicated: horrifying. Canned Hatch chiles are made from material that is scraped off the floor (then canned and sold to the ignorant) after good chiles are roasted (and sold to the enlightened).
In biking and nature notes, a somewhat windy afternoon ride was highlighted by southern leopard frogs singing (in addition to Western Chorus Frogs) and Morel mushrooms seen on the trail side. The Morel hunters will be out in full force by next week-end gathering these prized mushrooms. They are often covered in flour and fried in butter. The Bald Eagle nest next on the trail was occupied by a mature adult sitting on the nest. The trail was busy, with afternoon temperatures hovering around 60 F and winds to about 12 mph.
Two Grinch-themed birthday parties ensued for the middle grandchild: the local cheer gym was a venue one day, and a family-only party followed the next day. Androp’s wife and daughter require that each grandchild/child have at least two birthday parties each year: a big one with friends and a smaller one with family. This practice probably is not common, but we do what we do.
Elaborate plans and execution apparently are required to mark annual time monuments. Humans are a strange species.
One final note on politics: the titanic failure of he who must not be named to pass a health care law seems to bode poorly for his overall plot to turn the USA into an authoritarian government with him and his kinfolk in charge. This good news has at least temporarily eased Androp’s ongoing anxiety.
March 20, 2017: Cold Bike Ride; Signs of Spring; Kid Soccer; Brussels Sprouts; Androp’s Famous Sauce; Forming Society
Androp ventured on a bike ride on a bright, sunny morning with the temperature at 44 F and a 12 mph wind. Feet went numb and cheeks felt mild frost bike. Pedaling was slow. Hint: bright sunshine will not very much counteract the impact of cold air temperatures.
Signs of spring: Western Chorus Frogs were singing, despite the cold, from a shallow pond along the bike trail.
Henbit (Lamiumamplexicaule) was abundant in last year’s soybean fields. And an Eastern Phoebe was seen and heard defending a nesting site in the mouth of a cave.
In culinary notes, brussels sprouts and chicken quarters were cooked on the gas grill for one meal. The sprouts were almost good. Almost. Steak, potatoes, baked pears, corn on the cob, and steamed asparagus were made for Sunday. Androp’s famous white sauce was made to couple with asparagus:
-1/3rd cup each of Greek yogurt and mayonnaise,
-one tsp each of dill and paprika,
-two tsp of lemon juice,
-1/4th tsp salt
This simple white sauce goes well with fish, asparagus, and really, pretty much anything. It is so often requested that it is called “Androp’s famous sauce” around the house.
The youngest grandchild was taken to “organized” soccer practice. This is how that goes, with 2 and 3 year old kids:
Coach, “This class is adult-help.”
Adults, to selves “Oh. Holy Crap. Buck up. Strap in.”
Coach, “Take your little rings. Sit in your rings.”
Team, Pick up rings, toss, use as hoola hoop, hit other kids in head.
Coach, “Where are you ears? Touch your listening ears.”
Team, No Reaction. Continue to play with ring.
Coach, “Where are your soccer feet? Touch your soccer feet.”
Team, No Reaction. Continue to play with ring. Fidget. Struggle against adults who are frantically restraining movement.
Androp, to self, “Geezus. This is senseless. These kids do not know the coach exists on earth. Just let them run……Please…. open revolt is possible…Just. Let. Them. Run!”
Mercifully, the Coach said, “Okay. Run (a “toward something” was stated by Coach, but that part was inconsequential).” This was the highlight of practice for every child.
Finally, Androp has pondered how humans, a species of small troupe primate, have been able to form societies with millions of members. Foremost is the recognition that humans are smart buggers: they can learn, and can pass on knowledge, so they have been able to find ways to ensure the growth of a large, essentially pan-earth population (7 billion, and counting). Stream of thought includes:
Cooperation at some level is an advantage; the individual needs the troupe
Selfishness and the attainment of high social status may have been an evolutionary advantage at times: the sultan/king has a lot of off-spring out of that harem/stable of concubines. Never mind Joseph Smith and Brigham Young: light weights.
Populations of both in-groups and out-groups have increased: small troupes cannot compete in a pastoral, agricultural, or industrial age.
Large in-groups have to maintain internal order or break apart, leaving themselves susceptible to attack by larger out-groups. This is manifest in the establishment of governments and institutions.
He who must not be named in the USA has explicitly re-defined a limited in-group (that does not include all humans in the USA) and made them frightened of both internal (other USA citizens) and external out-groups. This will tend to destabilize and fragment the original in-group (the USA as a whole).
March 13: Lawns, Urban Burning, Spring, Brown Sauce, Envy
Humans spend excessive time and energy on maintenance of tame grasses they call “lawns.” Nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and gasoline are all used in abundance on these largely useless grassy areas. They are pollution pits and wastes of fossil fuels. The tendency to try to manage the environment seems universal among humans, but urban lawns are a particularly radical, and way too popular, example. City ordinances sometimes preclude reasonable people from doing the right thing: they force the pollution and waste that goes with lawn maintenance on homeowners. Androp favors those humans getting over it. Late winter burning of unfertilized native plants seems more reasonable.
The decorative magnolia trees and Bradford pears bloomed two weeks ago, so this last blast of freezing temperatures in town was due. The return of cold corresponded with a return to Daylight Savings Time, so confusion and disorientation resulted.
DST was adopted nationally by most states in 1966. The primary result was supposed to be energy savings. Now, nearly nobody approves of switching time twice a year, and no real energy savings result. However, switching back to not switching time would take an act of Congress, and everyone knows that will not happen.
The culinary note involves a brown sauce (gravy), in this case, made for serving over rice and seared scallops.
The easiest way to make gravy is to put equal parts flour and butter in a pan, brown a bit, and then add whatever is desired for flavor. In this case, onions were browned, then some crushed garlic was added. Those were removed, then scallops were seared. Finally, 1 tbl butter and 1 tbl flour (plus salt and pepper) were added and the flour was browned. Then 1 c milk and the browned onions and garlic were added back and heated until bubbly. Hint: for white gravy, the flour is not browned, but this results in a somewhat doughy-tasking gravy. Androp prefers to brown the flour.
Finally, under humans are strange, Androp has been considering the source of envy. Probably, recognition of good resources is adaptive, and a desire to take those away from other troupes of humans could be seen as adaptive.
Modern humans manifest this desire for resources a yearning for material goods such as automobiles and houses. Ironically, survival and reproduction of modern humans in the developed world is not enhanced by owning these types of resources. High social status might also have improved fitness throughout most of our evolutionary history, but not any longer in the developed world. The current desire for high social status may partly explain our fascination and admiration of celebrities. Possibly, this explains partly the election of he who must not be named. Humans are an exceptionally strange species, and possibly are becoming more and more ill-adapted to the environment they have created for themselves.
March 7, 2017: Dangerous Cats, Biking in Wind, Broken Glass, Muffin Bread, Spring, Carrion
Cats serve humans as surrogate non-needy friends, or as substitute children. Setting aside the disagreeable task of cleaning their litter boxes, they do posesignificantactualdangers to humans. They get underfoot and can trip the unsuspecting and cause broken wrists, broken hips, and brain-threatening concussions. Even when falling is avoided, they trigger emotional distress when humans step on them and make them yowl.
“Gawdamit! Sorry, cat! I did not mean to step on you. Stoopid cat. Get out from under my frisking feet.”
Some seconds later, when panic begins to fade, to self, muttering, “Geezus I hope I did not break that cat’s leg. Crimony. Not my fault. Fricking cat.”
Most concerning are the cat-born diseases. Toxoplasmosis can be transmitted by felines and is a parasite that may negatively impact risk assessment. No human needs to be worse at risk assessment: their skill level is horrible in the modern world. Infection rates among adult humans in the USA are about 18%.to 19%. Look it up. Approximately 60 million adults in the USA are/have been infected with Toxoplasmosis. This figure roughly corresponds with the number of humans who voted for he who must not be named. Coincidence?
Androp went bikinginwinds that hovered near 12 mph on an overcast, 50 F morning. Riding out into the wind was brutal. Riding back was a breeze (pun intended). Hint: ride out into the wind, and back with the wind. Payattention. Also, when a rider reaches 8 to 10 mph on a bike, nearly all of the riding resistance comes from wind. The weight of the bike matters little: given a human weighting 200 lbs, pedaling a bike that weights 35 lbs versus 25 lbs only add 4.4% to the load. Riding resistance is impacted even less. Likewise, tire tread and tire circumference add little riding resistance. Google Sheldon Brown (insert biking subject) for more information.
Speaking of biking and broken glass: the wife successfully sleuthed the source of puddles of broken glass that appear on the street in our cul-de-sac: garbage trucks. This is bad news for biking, especially for non-puncture-resistant youth bike tires. Bummer.
The culinary notes are sparse: Androp made pulled pork, coleslaw, baked beans, green beans, and fresh English muffin bread this week for the family Sunday meal. Pulled pork and coleslaw on buns is yummy. Cook the pork slowly for tenderness: in the oven at about 310 for 4 hours. Use a fatty roast, such as “butt roast” or “Boston Butt” or “shoulder roast.” These are all from the shoulder area. Pork loin sucks for pulled pork: too lean. English muffin bread (also called toasting bread) is probably the easiest yeast loaf to make for the first-time baker. No kneading, no stand or hand mixer needed, and only one rise required. The loaves are firm and can be sliced thin for toasting. All recipes for this loaf are similar. Pleasing, bigger loaves will result if the baker adds about 25% to all ingredients from most recipes.
Signs of spring are abundant in Androp’s home town: decorative magnolia trees and Bradford pears are in bloom. Generally, this means one more freeze on the year.
Finally, Androp has a friend who feeds carrion to Turkey Vultures in his back year. They need to eat, too. An interesting note: no wintering Turkey Vultures were recorded in Androp’s home town during the Christmas bird counts until the 1990’s. More than a dozen were observed along Missouri River bluffs during Saturday’s bike ride. The reason is unknown, but the appearance of vultures does correspond with the building of sewage ponds, and of wildlife conservation ponds, in the area. Could dead ducks have attracted the wintering vultures? The curious await a better explanation.
February 27: Best-selling Car; Odd Use of a Urinal; Potatoes and Onions; Pileated Woodpecker
The best-selling car in America is the Cozy Coupe by Little Tykes. No child can resist the allure of this riding toy, in production since 1979. It seats up to four, including two on top, and is powered by humans: no greenhouse gasses are produced in excess of those produced by living humans. WHAT A CAR. Androp has never much desired automobiles of any sort, but the cozy coupe is a must for children.
Androp spent several days in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and came away unimpressed by the city itself. No food that scored above “okay” was consumed. Some said that the city had charm, with art deco buildings. Mainly, Androp saw monolithic downtown structures designed to impress plebeians. This reminded him of the People’s Square in Taipei City, which actually is way more impressive, although in a blue-smoke-filling-the-air way. As for the art deco: Napier, NZ, has more beauty and charm (not close). The meetings attended included visits with many old friends, which is always the highlight of any conference.
A note: Androp is invariably dreadfully uneasy in large groups of humans he does not know. Basically this represents mild to medium agoraphobia. Probably this is common: small group primates should mainly not be relaxed in large groups. Some stranger may be looking to steal your resources.
The culinary note this week centers on fried potatoes and onions. These are made and eaten approximately once a week at Androp’s house. The keys are (1) cut the potatoes into small, even-sized cubes with a sharp, 20 cm (8 inch) chef’s knife, and (2) cook the potatoes until almost done before adding the onion, which cooks much faster. The cooking shows that add many different kinds of vegetables to a fry pan at once are insanely wrong: And for gawd’s sake, never add garlic to a fry pan more than two minutes before food is removed from heat. Bitter, burnt garlic is unappetizing. Any advice from any celebrity chef that recommends adding garlic early can and should be safely ignored.
In nature notes, Andorp acquired photo-documentation of a Pileated Woodpecker on the back deck. This was a first. Spring is early: the daffodils are nearly blooming. Finally, the wife heard coyotes yipping from both sides of our urban cud-de-sac at once. The urban peninsula is about 50 m wide, with wooded ravines on either side. One group of coyotes was on one side, one on the other side. They were close enough, apparently, to actually see the wife and the little dog on the sidewalk, because they stopped yipping when the wife approached. Likely, they were spooked by the appearance of a human, not of a little dog.
The level of anxiety that he who must not be named is causing Androp’s friends is distressing. Staying ignorant of events is not responsible, but staying constantly frantic is not healthy. Hopefully, most will find some happy medium.
February 21, 2017: Weird Weather; Big Meals; The Park
A vast quantity of humans in Androp’s home town spent some of both days over this past week-end outside. Conditions were unseasonably warm: a new record was set on Saturday with a high of 77 F. Normal high (average of previous 30 years) is 46. Hint: Weather Underground has great information posted online; their weather app is good as well.
Androp got in an early Saturday morning bike ride and a trip to the park with the youngest grandchild. The slide was accessed and used more than 30 times. The first experience in a ‘big girl’ swing resulted in great joy as well as a fall. Jumping off a moving swing resulted in a face plant into weathered chunks of shredded trees. Hint to adults: children younger than about 5 years or age are not ‘swing aware:’ they will walk right in front of a moving swing. Small children do need some help with decision making.
In culinary news, Androp made way too much food for the family meal on Sunday: pork ribs, sausage, coleslaw, glazed carrots, rice, broccoli, baked pears, fresh pineapple. The pears were effectively baked on the grill in a covered dish. To accomplish baked pears, slice about 4-5 pears into cut into large (1 -2 inch) chunks, and toss them in 0.5 c sugar and 1 generous tsp cinnamon (a touch of ginger helps too). Add a tbl or two of butter on top. Baking time for pears can be quite variable: whether they are firm or soft, just pretend that was the idea. Channel Julia Child and act like you meant them to be exactly as they came out.
Carrots enjoy being glazed – you can seem them quiver with excitement when sweet stuff is added. Just boil them first, drain, add back to the pan, and then add a tbl of brown sugar or, better, real maple syrup and a tbl of butter and a tsp salt. Heat them a bit.
Ribs benefit from slow cooking. Hint: St. Louis style pork ribs offer a good compromise between not meaty enough and too meaty to be called ribs because they cannot be eaten off the bone (as are some baby back ribs). Ribs eaten with a fork are just pork chops or something – avoid this. Androp usually simmers his in water with 0.25 c vinegar added for about 30 minutes, then drains, and places them on a hot grill to add a little crispy on the outside. Seasoned salt is added before grilling. Huge hint: to serve, cut every other rib out (close to the bone). The chef or his favored assistant(s) should eat whatever meat is left on these ‘waste ribs.’ Everyone can add what they want later in terms of BBQ sauce. Most humans will simply eat them hot off the grill with seasoned salt. Few dishes are eaten with more blissful enthusiasm than ribs. Two large racks were consumed Sunday, without use of any sauce at all. Seasoned salt can be easily made at home: 2 tbs salt, one tsp sugar, one tsp paprika, and then lesser amounts of powdered garlic and onion, and dried mustard.
Finally, the younger daughter has discovered painting as a hobby. She brought canvases and paints for everyone and all of the kids and some of the adults made paintings. It was a fantastic idea, and a great outlet for creativity. The children were quite pleased with their own efforts.
Odd note under inquiring minds want to know: why do humans buy un-hulled pistachios when they could buy delicious, ready to gobble down, cashews? This seems to make little sense.
February 12, 2017: Pancakes; Biking; Owls and Woodpeckers; Conspiracy Theories
The culinary news involves pancakes. The wife’s grandmother left a buttermilk pancake recipe that has been used, presumably, for more than 60 years. Results from this formulation are always exceptional: perfect fluff, browning, and taste. The recipe is remarkable because a full batch calls for 12 cups of flour. Most modern recipes call for 2 cups of flour.
Hints on pancakes: (1) a person can place drips of real maple syrup in them before they are turned and successfully feed them to small children later (even after freezing), (2) use real butter on them if consuming hot; do not be timid, (3) use real maple syrup if maple flavor is desired – go big or go home. Pancakes can be successfully cooked in a cast iron pan, but this is one case where a large, electric cooking surface may prove useful, if many people are to be served at once. For the record: Androp Gerard does not have an electric cooking surface, and would pay hundreds of dollars to avoid owning one. He is a minimalist.
In biking and nature, the weather allowed a pleasant trail ride. A Great Horned Owl was seen from the trail. This species is more often heard than seen, and not that often heard. This was a rather uncommon and exciting observation. Two Bald Eagle nests were also spotted. One clearly had a mature eagle on the nest. Interestingly, these two nests are less than 3 km apart, which seems a bit close. Finally, a Pileated Woodpecker was seen in the yard. Sightings occur less frequently than one per year, in general, so this was another exciting wildlife observation.
Androp has been considering the origin of conspiracy theories. Belief in conspiracy theories, superstitions, and religions seem to be in the same family of human behaviors. These spring, basically, from the need to explain patterns, past events, and future possibilities – all to reduce anxiety. To the extent that conspiracy theories are different from religious beliefs, the following observations apply:
Conspiracy theorists are by most definitions in the minority within a society, although they may often be members of a majority religion. This may tend to diminish the direct social benefits of belief.Few conspiracy theorists gather regularly to perform rituals: (songs, chants, responses to prompts). These types of activities offer benefits similar to meditation, as well as enhancing social bonding.
Belief in conspiracy theories does not effectively sooth anxiety, even though these beliefs spring from anxiety. Religious adherents (who are not at the same time conspiracy theorists) are generally soothed via belief.
Conspiracy theorists see those in control of events as malevolent. No reward is offered for belief. Religious believers see their god(s) as loving, and adherents are rewarded for belief.
Conspiracy theorists generally lack trust in many or most institutions and their representatives. Believers in majority religions make up the institutions and their members.
The most prominent conspiracy theorist in the world today is Donald J. Trump.