Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Café closed (but blog continues)

The small café that inspired this blog, sadly, has closed after about 10 years of operation. Sadly. The trough of the economic downturn has reached our fair burg, forcing the owners to call it quits. The presence of a huge state university created shielding economic bubble, but finally the center on could not hold. The place attracted a business lunch crowd, but not so much dinner

The 50-year old stand-alone brick building with two large front windows on either side of the door, started as a beer joint/domino hall, and is owned by the descendents of the original proprietor. The dining room walls were chockfull with fishing artifacts: hooks, poles, a framed display of knots, nets, reels, oil paintings, pulleys. Neon beer signs provided a warm glow. The used wooden chairs and tables had been sanded and refinished to a gloss.

The kitchen was all stainless steel appliances, food prep areas, shelves, and sinks. This restaurant routinely scored 100s on health department inspections. The chef was meticulous about food safety and cleanliness.

Although the menu was roadhouse fare—chicken-fried steak, catfish, ribeye steaks, hamburgers, BLTs—the menu contained some surprises: crawfish etouffé and occasionally, seafood gumbo.  For special occasions, such as Valentine’s Day, the chef (grandson of the original owner) would whip up sublime entreés, such as fish in a white wine sauce. Everything was prepared from scratch: even the onion rings were meticulously cut buy hand and dipped in a house-prepared batter.

The chef/owner routinely employed waitstaff from a substance-abuse halfway house. All those I worked with were outstanding, smart, efficient, and hard-workers. It was a great place to work and, to my thinking, a cultural icon.

Whither blog?

A tacit rule of the blogosphere is that one should post regularly. But my work hours prevent much activity on weekday evenings, and my quotidian ramblings don’t strike me as compelling reading. But I love the idea of a blog, and I love having this outlet, so I will continue.

When I started this blog, the intent was an outlet for amusing anecdotes from waiting tables at a small, independent roadhouse-type café. The café, its customers, and my fellow employees provided a wealth of material: addressing as “Hon” the former president of the enormous and famous state university in this fair city, appreciation of the hell-like atmosphere under which cooks work, the stage-whispered comments about a collegiate locker room from a well-respected community member, and admiration for the hard-working recovering substance abusers who served and cooked.

Later the reconstruction of my house from the ground up provided good material and photos. That project is on hold at the moment, to be resumed December 27. And there was the occasional completed craft project photo, home-crafted whittled crochet hook, farmers’ market.

 I notice photos of dinner and restaurant reviews are popular, but I rarely dine out. I did post a review of a particularly bizarre experience at what had been my favorite restaurant, Square One Bistro, on Tripadvisor.  The restaurant recently reinvented itself and, I hope, with an improved outlook. I joined a warm and welcoming Book and Dinner Club Meetup, affording me the opportunity to try new restaurants while enjoying good conversation. Stay tuned.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Community Potluck

The Venn diagram of organizations functionally overlapped with the Brazos Valley Farmers’ Market is a type of paradigm-shifting, progressive, socially responsive roadmap of the Brazos Valley.
One Friend of the Brazos Valley Farmers’ Market is active in the Association for Social Entrepreneurship. A member of this group informed me of the twice-weekly community.  Every Saturday and 5:00 p.m. and Sunday at 1:00 p.m., this group hosts a potluck open to all at Neal Recreation Center.
One market day, customers could purchase vouchers for food that was donated to that weekend’s potluck after the close of market. Great idea, and a carload of gorgeous greens were delivered.
For two weekends now, I have prepared a dish to share: large crockpot of beans and greens and other vegetables and yesterday, a vegetarian lasagne with a picante kick to share for the Sunday midday meal. About 50 persons played soccer or warmed themselves around a wood fire on the grill. Others set up the table. Some of the folks appeared to be homeless or down on their luck. Others appeared to be nice, socially conscious college students. One young man had a comprehensive knowledge of the warming “quotient” of various fabrics (polyester, silk, wool) gained from “field study” while homeless. Admirably, he is now a college student.
The group—adults and children alike—took hands in a large circle. One regular member gave thanks for the meal we were about to enjoy, followed by introductions around the circle. The man to my right tenderly gripped my hand and that of his right neighbor, the entire time, even as he said the prayer of thanks.
I am a huge fan of potlucks. After another session of warming myself by the fire, I got in line. There was chicken and all manner of vegetables, salads, breads, lots of Christmas goodies. Iced tea.
After I found a seat, I noticed some of the college student-looking folks were not eating. Should I have abstained? No, a few were partaking. One college student said some more fortunate people make a distinction and consider themselves to be serving those left fortunate. But it was all good. I can hardly wait to return.

Multibeans1 1-lb package mixed beans, with kidney beans removed and replaced with mayocoba beans
many types of peppers, including a jalapeno or three, diced
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 bunch collards
1 bunch beet greens
3 or 4 bay leaves (laurel)
1 teaspoon basil
chile powder
kosher salt
Soak beans overnight. Discard soaking liquid.
Four or five hours before the event, sauté diced onions and peppers. Rinse greens, stack, roll up, and cut into strips. Throw everything into a 6-quart slow cooker with about twice the volume of water as vegetables. Cook on high four hours. (Important note: if it is necessary to add more water, add boiling water. Adding cool water will cause beans to harden.) Discard bay leaves (choking hazard).

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Good-bye and Godspeed, Daddy

My father passed away December 11, 2010, almost a decade after being diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and was laid to rest with military honors at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona in Cave Creek. The service was a celebration of life rather than a funeral: a 21-gun salute and solemn prayer provided by the Disabled American Veterans, the presentation of the flag to my Mom by a Marine contingent, the mourner's kaddish by our neighbor and good friend of almost 40 years. Mom and each of us four children read an anecdote or two (to some knowing laughter). The ceremony ended with a bittersweet and utterly lovely rendition of Sunrise, Sunset by a professional singer, a friend of the younger of two brothers.

Dad on a photography outing.

He was an electrical engineer, avid hobbyist photographer, outdoor adventurer (camping, hiking, whitewater rafting, sailing), tennis player, husband, father of four and grandfather of seven. He had served in the Marines and always identified with The Few, The Proud. In 1970, he determined Arizona was the place to raise a family, so my parents left everything and everyone they knew on Long Island, New York, and moved to Scottsdale, Arizona.

I credit my father with with my love the the outdoors, of classical music, and more recently, of dogs.

His public and private personas were different. During my Thanksgiving visit, I learned of a side of my father I never knew. Throughout our lives, we had a contentious relationship. I learned recently, that he had a large cadre of loyal friends from his photography and outdoor adventure interests, as well as his dog-walking friends. The telephone never stopped ringing with calls for him, and there was a constant stream of visitors.

We made peace at the end. I wish it had come sooner, but that one conversation I will always treasure.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Found on a commute

Moving down the road at 12 mph, I’ve found all manner of items—
  • Leatherman precision multipurpose tool and leather pouch
  • wood-handled screwdriver
  • crescent wrench/pliers combo
  • lots of towels (chain cleaners)
  • wallet with money but not ID removed (tried for months without success to find owner)
  • all manner of clothing.
Yesterday, on a slightly different route on my daily commute to the office, I spied a piece of purple netting. In a hurry, I decided not to stop. Then I saw a discarded flexible cell phone protector. About 10 feet away, on a grassy swale beside the road, was an iPhone. I stopped, picked the three items up, and continued to work. I can use the 1.5 yards of netting on a sewing project I have in mind.

I charged up the iPhone using the sync cable from my iTouch, figured out the name of the owner via Facebook, and sent her a message. Very grateful, this young mother picked up her telephone, and gave me a small poinsettia and a cool bookmark of copper wire and a stone as a token of appreciation.

A Washington, D.C., commuter found a pannier belonging to another cyclist. A few years ago, I read a blog limited to items other cyclists had found along the way.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A shellacking

The pendulum, folks! As a body politic, we need to achieve some type of equilibrium.

Remember two and a half years ago, at the nadir of the financial crisis, when the country was made aware of the evildoers–of Wall Street—the rampant greed, the neutered Security and Exchange Commission (courtesy Bush '41),  the cratering of the real estate market, the demise of Bear Stearns? Even hard-core Republicans saw the error of the ways of their aging, alcoholic, dirty joke-telling, slacker frat-boy good ol' boy W ('43) and the holier-than-thou right wingers and we voted in droves for the Democrats.

Now, two years later, and the pendulum swings the other way, to the lunatic, hateful Tea Partiers.

We need to become more stabilized and less polarized. Where are the Adalai Stevensons, Lyndon Johnsons, Sam Rayburns, Shirley Chisolms, Robert Byrds, Hubert Humphreys, and Harry Trumans of today?

It was a sad November 3 to wake up and find the politically savvy Linda Chavez-Thompson, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and force who rose from migrant laborer to executive vice-president of the AFL-CIO lost to the wealthy, dissipated, and elite David Dewhurst for Texas lieutenant governor, the real power center in Texas.

Maybe it was a good thing the public was not aware of components of every deal, but at least our elected
officials worked together for what they thought was the good of the country.

Hey, Tea Partiers! It's not about ideology, it's about the welfare of the country.

Update: at the November 13 Brazos Valley Farmers' Market, a retired judge and I struck up a conversation. I had taken him for a rock-ribbed conservative East Texas Republican, but–surprise!–he is a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, a delegate to the National Democratic Convention that nominated Bill Clinton and the son of a old-time Texas state representative. He added Mike Mansfield and even the conciliatory Barry Goldwater to my list of willing-to-negotiate politicians.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Courteous Mass

Finally, my work schedule allowed me to participate in Courteous Mass in Bryan/College Station. With grassroots groups countrywide, as I understand it, Courteous Mass is a bicycle party with the mission of raising awareness of bicyclists rights to the road.

Usually, cleanup detail following Friday afternoon seminars keep me from busy long past the Courteous Mass departure time, but no seminar was scheduled last Friday.

The crew of about 30 was motley, a good thing. In evidence were the expected fixed gear bicycles, but also a number of casual cyclists on all kinds of bicycles. Not one person attired in bicycling gear. One fixed-gear enthusiast on a bicycle painted in circus-like colors with large lime-green handgrips  fwarmed up/amused himself with a bit of trick riding, including riding backward (doable on a fixed-gear machine), bumping into a fixed object to rear up on the front wheel, and pulling a wheelie and spinning around on the rear wheel. I was impressed and entertained.

I was reminded how much I missed riding with a group. It is so great that someone—a colleague, actually— has taken the reins not only to organize this group, but to lobby for cyclists' right to the road in the Brazos Valley.

Other bicycles: mountain bikes, conventional road bikes, pastel-colored beach cruisers, and my Downtube folding bicycle with its 20-inch wheels.

The group gathers in the Northgate area Texas A&M University and rides to the downtown Bryan to join in the monthly First Friday celebration. Just prior to departure, the organizer (or main motivational force) asked everyone to sign a waiver of liability (standard practice at every bicycle event) and described the route. The route would actually ride about a half-mile  in the left lane on Texas Ave., a road forbidden to cycling. Okay, this is interesting. One cyclist carried the music, loud enough to energize without annoying motorists.

I volunteered to bring up the rear. Within 50 feet of the starting point, I knew the slowest cyclist would present problems. A female, probably an inexperienced cyclist, would not or could not go faster than about 5 miles per hour, despite my verbal and her companion's physical (push forward) encouragement. Although the group pace was slow, she seemed to want to get caught by traffic light, and allowed the group to pull ahead. I stayed with them, but apparently they decided to give it up at the next intersection. I tried to catch up to the group further on in the ride, but they were too far ahead.

No problem; my house is on the route. And after months of anticipation, finally I was a part of Courteous Mass. I will definitely return next month.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Bright lights, big city

Houston, Texas. George. R. Brown Convention Center.

In October, I staffed the booth of the engineering program for which I am coordinator, along with several  magnificent graduate students and even a postdoc. Our job was to raise awareness of this great program among promising engineering undergraduates and, as importantly, among the cognescenti and industrial players of this discipline.

For someone who spends 98 percent of her working week in a small office facing a computer, it was  a heady—and somewhat exhausting—experience. The students who visited the booth were directed, articulate, intelligent, and confident. Made a few good contacts that I will pursue judiciously One surprise coincidence and another reminder that the world is truly a small place was a Native American student now in her last undergraduate year of engineering at a college in the Midwest. It turns out that my junior-year college roommate was one of her elementary school teachers in northeast Arizona. .

The layout and "swag" of other booths was interesting. Among the promotional item: small levels, pens, lip balm, letter opener/screen cleaners, desks of cards. Our booth gave out imprinted pads and pens, along with our literature. We attracted people with a big bowl of candy.

The booth backdrop was three 7 x 3-foot retractable posters which roll up into a package the size of a quiver of arrows. the posters are held open by a three-part elastic-corded pole in back (like a tent pole).

Monday evening was an alumni reception attended by one of the Deans of Engineering. It was wonderful seeing several graduated students again. So proud of the way they have made their way in the world.

About a quarter of the expo floor was devoted to a materials camp. Houston schoolchildren of all ages came to see materials science in action, including a shape memory alloy engine of Nitinol. Every child came away with a pair of safety glasses, which they found all kinds of ways to wear as they left the hall: atop the head, backwards on the head, folded with earpiece hooked over the front of the shirt, on the forehead. Many even left with their safety glasses firmly in place.

Many of us stayed at an adjacent hotel. Maybe I'm  an unsophisticated rube, but when one is paying $189/night (and that's the discounted rate), ethernet and wi-fi in the room should be free. And the fitness center should not charge a sawbuck (that's $10) to grind away on their meager treadmills. Heck, the fleabag down the road from me advertises free wi-fi. Campgrounds have free wi-fi, for goodness sake. Yes, the rooms were gorgeously appointed; the down comforter and pillows, the Crabtree and Evelyn sundries in the bathroom, but the ethernet cable just say their mocking me. I sensed that room ethernet was not free when every available seat in the opulent lobby was filled with engineers tapping away at their laptops. The contiguous convention center, though, provided great wi-fi. It was an eerie Tuesday evening sitting alone in the cavernous three city blog-long George R. Brown Convention Center using their wi-fi to catch up on e-mail.

But, it is so good to be home!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fiestas Patrias

September 18 and 19, Fiesta Patrias (Patriotic Celebration) brought a festive attitude to downtown Bryan, Texas.

First the parade featuring—

  • many vaqueros on horseback, the women dressed in colorful skirts riding sidesaddle
  • many political entries, considering Election Day is less than 60 days away
  • among the political entries, Chet Edwards (Dem.), US Representative from District 17, walking beside his car wearing a Texas flag-style shirt
  • Chet Edwards' opponent in this contentious race, Bill Flores, rode in a convertible wearing a neckbrace
  • a middle school marching band...riding on flatbed trailer instead of marching
  • a trick reata roper and a small version of same
  • one tiny child on a tiny miniature horse
  • one tiny Smart Car representing an insurance agent
  • several low-riders with impressive hydraulic systems, including one that lifted up the right front wheel and drove that way.
After the parade, the booths galore.

The Brazos County Health Department was out in force. I saw at least three health inspectors.

Yummy tostada, custom-made vegetarian for me. And the elote! Fresh roasted corn on the cob, brushed with mayonnaise and covered with chili powder. The best corn I've ever tasted. Chile is a wonderful spice.

A Fiestas Patrias princess resplendent in a dress of my favorite color.

US Rep. Chet Edwards (Dem.), 17th Congressional District.
Colorful folklorico attire

Barbacoa on a spit with pineapple!

The paletera vendors, of course.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Two-wheel deal

For about 30 years, I've been a bicycle commuter to work. I started bicycling to work on a used three-speed Columbia with internal hub. I'll never forget the sense of freedom and uniqueness from tooling around Sierra Vista, Arizona, one summer during college on that heavy steed. Somehow, I barely remember the five-mile uphill daily commute.

When I settled in Sierra Vista after college, I resumed bicyling—in my business clothes—to my first job as a technical writer, less than two miles away. Of that commute, I recall seeing mesmerizing color combinations created by lights reflecting from anodized aluminum slats in chain-link fences. I never did figure out where that turquoise color came from.

In my mid-twenties, I became an avid cyclist, and bought a series of go-fast bicycles and carry-stuff bicycles, including an old, used Motebecane touring bike, of the latter type. I never appreciated the jewelry fitting-like lugs, cut precisely in a stylized M.

Not my Motobecane Grand Touring bicycle, but an identical model.
Next, from the LBS came a Schwinn Voyageur. I commuted to work many years on the Voyageur, and took at least one wonderful tour: a perimeter ride of the Gila Wilderness. Despite the fact that these Voyageurs enjoy a loyal following due to their intricate fittings, the Voyageur just never felt "right," so when one of the doyennes of Tucson's Greater Arizona Bicycling Association advertised to sell her Miyata 1000LT tourer, I was right on that. A true touring machine with strong 36-spoke triple-cross wheels,  relaxed geometry, bar-end shifters, nice triple chainring, long wheelbase, and lots of braze-ons. The handling of the bicycle improved with weight, especially with front panniers.

The commute was 8 to 10 miles round-trip, and I often headed out on the roller-coaster road to Fort Huachuca's West Gate after work. Eventually an entire cadre of my colleagues bicycled in, even a "non-bikie" woman named Charla who rode a harder morning than any of us: a 20-mile unrelenting uphill from the river to our building in the foothills.
Sometime during this, I also completed two El Tour de Tucson 109-milers in high style, along with 5,000 other cycling enthusiasts, on the go-fast Schwinn Super Sport road bike, as well as a few many centuries and double metric centuries.

I also owned a mountain bike, but my bicycle-handling skills were just a few degrees north of my intrepidness: not my cup of tea, although I loved riding the dirt roads in southern Arizona's San Rafael Valley.

After seven years of commuting to and working in the same place, I put all my worldly goods in storage, found a temporary foster home for my lovely cat, and flew to San Diego with my Miyata and panniers, bicycling east to the Atlantic Ocean: seeing America at 12 miles per hour, solo and self-contained.

For years at Texas A&M University, I commuted to work on the Miyata with panniers or my go-fast Demarais of the gorgeous pink Imron paint job.

Still I'm a bicycle commuter, a short 2.25-mile ride each way to Texas A&M University, but I enjoy even this short-and-not-scenic commute. I park my Downtube folding bike in the bike rack and change upstairs. After more than two decades, this packing/commuting/refreshing/changing thing is routine and second nature.

My Downtube folding bicycle: love it!

On September 3, I'm looking forward to participating in Courteous Mass, a takeoff on the urban Critical Mass bicycle demonstrations to raise awareness of the impact of cycling.  Ifound a small note about the event taped to my handlebars. The group will meet behind a popular college watering hole and ride en masse the 4 miles to downtown Bryan's First Friday event. I'm so excited.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Commencement summer 2010: Head 'em up, move 'em out

For the fourth or fifth time, I served as a graduation marshal, this time at the summer 2010 commencement ceremonies at Texas A&M University. The marshal's charge is to line up graduates-to-be (College of Engineering masters' graduates, in my case)  in alphabetical order in a staging area prior to their marching out to the arena floor.

The term "like herding cats" comes to mind. The excitement level is high, as to be expected, and, of course, students want to group together with their friends, not necessarily with others of different majors and whose last names are not close alphabetically. Engineers, of course, would know the difference between a line and a curve, although achieving that formation is easier in theory than practice.

Amidst the chaos of reading off names and adjusting MS hoods and tassels, I spotted a man standing arms akimbo, feet spread,  a smile on his face, standing against the wall. Where was my co-marshal, I wondered? The undergraduate marshal, seeing my quandary, stepped in to help me. About 5 minutes before the showtime, this man stepped forward. He was the other engineering masters marshal! Why wasn't he helping line up the 100-plus grads? I as much as ordered him to check the order of the master of science line, while I rechecked master of engineering. He saw what needed to be done, he saw I was struggling, but he stood back. And this man is a lecturer, a quasi-faculty member.

At 8:58 a.m., commencement ceremony was to start 9:00 a.m., a master in computer science student arrived, gown over one arm, hood over the other, and mortarboard in hand. Her major had filed down the staircase several moments earlier, and might even already be on the arena floor. And she still had to don her regalia! The staircase down to the area floor was packed with grads, so I strongly advised her to push her way down past those in formation and find her place among students of her major, and don her regalia before walking on the arena floor.

Anyhow, as usual, the filing-out of grads was the ever the bittersweet moment, but no waterworks from me this time. None of my MS advisee-graduates walked this time, and the Ph.D.s staged in a different room.  Later the sole summer Ph.D. graduate came to my office, in regalia, for photos. Okay, I might have shed a tear or three. The kids will be okay, but me? Not so much. Vaya con Dios, students.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Buescher State Park

Back in the day, I did not feel I was having a good time until I was footsore or tush-sore, sunburned, achy, cramping of muscle, reaching 90% of cardio max, encrusted with salt from my own dried sweat on a trail with a backpack or on a bicycle, with or without panniers.

Now, not so much. Last weekend I camped at Buescher State Park outside Smithville, Texas, and was perfectly content to sit under the trees, knitting and reading, then take a 2.5-mile hike. Granted temperatures were in the upper 90s, and I look forward to hiking the entire 7-plus-mile loop someday, but last weekend, rest was on the agenda.

I have to admit to a large twinge of nostalgia seeing the fit road bicyclists start up the 12-mile roller coaster road to neighbor park Bastrop, part of the famed MS 150 route. I hope that my recreational cycling days are not over. I have my cycling chops, having cycled upwards of 25 century rides, many multi-day self-contained tours, one solo, self-contained cross-country tour, and even some mountain bike excursions.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Slow-Cooker

For my college graduation 30 years ago, my Grandma Anne gave me this Rival Crockpot, avocado green. She passed away more than 10 years ago, but I thought of her every time I cooked in this wonder. Thanks, Grandma.

Thirty years, rusted out at the bottom, but still cooking up a storm! This appliance has cooked up faux bouef bourguignon, all manners of stews, hunter chicken galore, and beans: pinto, garbanzo, black-eyed peas, Anasazi, navy, lentils, frijoles negros, 15-bean soup. Thirty years of coming home to a house with an enticing smell and a yummy dinner.

When I first opened the box all those years ago, I studied with interest the small recipe booklet that came with it, especially the part about baking in the Crockpot! I ordered by mail the gold-colored aluminum baking insert and tried all types of brown quickbreads a one-pound coffee can. The cylindrical breads baked up wonderfully moist.

This Crockpot also cooked up two batches of award-winning chili: first at a company competition in Sierra Vista, Arizona. The second batch crowned me Chili Champion of the Texas Agriculture Program! Imagine: me, a Brooklyn (New York!)-born girl becoming chili champ of those most Texan of Aggies: the Agricultural Program at Texas A&M University!
Great slow-cooker websites

Now though, meat is not on my menu, so I acquired two vegetarian slow-cooker cookbooks, which open up all types of possibilities.

(In case you are wondering, the "table" under the crockpot was the door to my bathroom. Now, supported by two sawhorses, it is my outdoor table while my house is in makeover mode.)

Soon after I drafted this post, twice the Crockpot gave me a big shock when I touched its metal skin. Although it still heats wonderfully, I'm afraid the "stew is cooked" for this wonderful appliance.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ranger...well, not danger

This past weekend marked my first camping trip of the summer, just a three-dayer to a state park in Texas Hill Country: river, limestone bluffs, trees, a tent, a campstove. Life is good. We took a 2.5-hour nature hike which interwove history, flora, fauna, agriculture, rangeland ecology, and even natural dyes and medicinals. The best interpretative nature walk in memory.

Along the trail on the excellent interpretative nature walk given by the volunteer Friends group. Algae are responsible for the gorgeous aqua color of Hill Country rivers, we learned.

We also took time to splash in a shallow bend in the river, with a beach crowded with all manner of canopies and umbrellas. It was a nest of activity, yet relaxing.

My friend, Karen, is a seasonal worker in the park, and Saturday evening we enjoyed a wonderful visit over salmon fish tacos, with sauteed peppers and onions, and a salad of cucumbers, avocado, and apples, possibly my best outdoor-cooked meal ever. We reminisced and caught up past dark.

The state park was very strict on the rules. Even a law-and-order type like me was a bit surprised, but happy with the calm in the long run.

A respite in the nature hike.

Sunday morning, my camping companion and I took a short hike. On the return trip, we spied a  large, stern ranger walking resolutely down the camping area loop. We bid him a respectful, but brief, good morning and veered off the trail toward our campsite to avoid encountering such a forbidding presence. This park was home to no-nonsense rangers enforcing stout rules, and I did not want to run afoul of them.

Then he called out my name! Oh, no, what have I done? Our tent is within the 16 x 16 tent pad, no alcoholic beverages were consumed (or even possessed), the campsite and entry fees are paid for for both of us (by far the highest campsite fee I've ever paid), we've been quiet as church mice, we left a donation for the Friends group leading the nature hike, and we hung our food bags the raccoon-proof pole overnight.

Meekly we approach. Not to worry, though. The ranger, second-in-command at this state park, and his now-wife were my next-door neighbors during their undergraduate days. True to form, he was a serious young man even as a young student. Now he and his family live in a residence within the park, and he has the tough job of keeping order at a large state park with not only hiking trails, campsites, and interpretive areas, but river frontage for swimming, kayaking, and tubing. He saw my name on the roster, recognized the address, and took time to seek me out at my campsite. That was nice, and unexpected. All in all, a great weekend.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Contra dancing

Contra dancing originated in New England in the 1800s as a type of speed-dating: a fair and equitable way for people to meet each other. This dance has nothing to do with Central American dissidents; rather, the name refers the starting position of the dance, with men and women in parallel lines opposite (contra) each other.

A whimsical definition from What is Contra Dance:

"Contra dance is a form of dance that thrusts a different person of the opposite sex into your arms every 30 seconds or so. Actually, this is only true sometimes. It might be more prudent, but less whimsical, to say that contra dance is one of the few dance forms where by the end of the evening you are likely to have danced with everyone."
From the same website
"A contra dance is like an amusement park ride we make for ourselves." --Unknown

Youth now connect with contra, catching the attention of NPR's All Things Considered.

A good example from youtube

Bryan/College Station has a wonderful contra dance group. Most often, live music is provided by the fabulous ensemble, Jalapeño Honey, and sometimes by another group called Contradiction. Many people come just to enjoy the music. Sometimes a member or two of the nationally renowned Marian Anderson String Quartet sits in with the band. The magical part of contra dancing, aside from the music, is the clever way in the dance progresses, allowing each person to dance with every other dancer of either gender. From above, I imagine it would look like a combination kaleidoscope and bicycle chain.

Friday, July 2, 2010

You'd need weapons for that!

The huge state university at which I work as a graduate academic advisor holds commencement ceremonies three times per year. For the past two or three years, several of my colleagues and I have served as graduation marshals for the College of Engineering.

Years ago, before I became an academic advisor, my neighbor, a buff black man with shaved head and huge biceps [read: intimidating] told me he was going to be a graduation marshall. In my then-ignorance I asked, "Do you help the parents find their seats?"

He: "No! You'd need weapons for that! I help the graduates line up."

Oh! Hah!

Marshals line up graduates in alphabetical order. And properly drape them in their MS hoods, find safety pins for tassels, wish them luck.

In the staging area, a basketball practice gym, marshals have only 45 minutes to get this unruly mass of more than 400 robed graduates in alphabetical order by academic degree (and, for undergraduates, major) and push them out the door. It seems as if the signs behind which they stand are randomly placed, but the head of one line follows seamlessly the tail of the next, at the direction of the hard-working people from Office of the Registrar.

The advisor from Department of Aerospace Engineering high-fives every aero undergraduate as they file onto the area floor. Ah, sweet youth!

One moment the noisy room filled with black regalia and laughing, joking, talking, hugging soon-to-be graduates. Within moments, the room is empty, leaving a vacuum and a surreal quiet. Some of the Ph.D. graduates are students I have known and advised for as long a five years. Although I'm thrilled they are about to embark on the next phase of their lives, it is bittersweet for me to see them go.

Good luck all. Vaya con Dios.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Texas State Democratic Convention

Just wrapped up a weekend of acting as a delegate from Brazos County, Senate District 5, to the Texas State Democratic Convention. The take-home message: the Democratic Party is is the party of persons with both heart and mind, as summarized in two t-shirt messages--

t-shirt: "I am a Democrat. End of discussion. See back of shirt." The back of the shirt listed public programs from Social Security through Family Medical and Leave Act, and just about every compassionate social program between.
t-shirt: "I think; therefore I am a Democrat:

Although the process of democracy is cumbersome, my faith in the positive outcome is renewed. The conference brought me to tears so many times: when military veterans among the delegates were recognized, service by service, by the Corpus Christi Veteran Band.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Chamber Music Institute

Summers mean the start of the wonderful Marian Anderson String Quartet Chamber Music Institute, a summer camp for string and piano musicians of all ages and abilities. Individual students and chamber groups are coached by the members of this world-class quartet. But since it is a music camp  there is contra dancing with live music, a performance by a local jazz trio,  a master class, cultural potluck dinner with talent show, theatre workshop, and, of course, a Texas-style barbeque. Historically, students' ages have ranged from 7 to better than 70, all held togehte with the glue of a love of classical music.

The City of Bryan is truly fortunate that The Marian Anderson String Quartet has chosen to make this city their home. They have been quartet or ensemble in residence at the City College of New York and four other universities before starting a eight-year-long artist-in-residence program at Texas A&M University.

Not only does the quartet undertake a demanding touring schedule, but they have made outreach to the community a great priority. The quartet performs in public locally at least eight times per year, and they hvae works tirelessly through the Sisyphian task of building the Chamber Music Institute from the ground up. The First Methodist Church allows the CMI to use its lovely facilities, including two commercial-grade kitchens and multiple practice rooms.

Although anyof the musicians could have made a successful career playing in a major symphony orchestra--for instance, the cellist played with the New York Philharmonic--they instead chose to devote their talents to bringing their music to small communities and people who might not have the opportunity every to hear live chamber music.

The Marian Anderson String Quartet is the gem in the crown of Bryan, Texas,

Saturday, June 12, 2010

White on white

The drywall is finished. A big milestone passed. The house is wonderfully insulated. I'm ready to start painting. The drywall floating and sanding took much longer than I expected. Leandro and Robisel did a great job, but I need a break from the...activity.

Leandro and Robisel after a long day sanding drywall compound.

Leandro, the great and powerful.

I moved my bed into my bedroom temporarily. Note to self: sleeping in a minimalist room is restful. No clutter. No furniture to dust. No baskets of yarn--and I do love yarn--to trip over or get tangled in.

My living room now.

Lots of room to park my commuting bicycle in the empty living room.

Bryan/College Station received 4.5 inches of rain this past week. In Texas, we don't complain about rain until it floods, but for someone whose virtual kitchen is outdoors, wow! that was a lot of rain. Still and all, I'm really enjoying this outdoor kitchen, which has given me some ideas about fixing up some permanent outdoor kitchen when the interior is more or less complete.

My 35-year-old Svea 123 backpacking stove became, well, balky in a fiery way a few weeks ago. (Maybe because I used automotive gasoline instead of white gas?) This stove has given me many years of great service. I've carried it literally thousands of miles, first in a backpack, then in bicycle panniers. I expect with a good cleaning, the stove will continue to offer good service in the backcountry. But it is not practical for "regular" cooking. Anyone who has worked to achieve the perfect gas pressure in the Svea by lighting a pool of fuel in the small well around the burner knows what I'm talking about. Lighting the Svea was art and science born of years of experience.  And, any Svea user knows the jet engine-like noise during cooking and the blissful silence when cooking was done. My new two-burner propane car-camping stove is sinfully easy to light. Turn the knob and strike a match. And cook, silently.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Drywall, almost 3,000 pounds total

Who knew?

The drywall (sometimes called by its trade name, Sheetrock) in a 900-square-foot house, would weigh 3,000 pounds. More or less.

The great and powerful Leandro single-handedly tore out, by hand, all drywall from my house, save one wall, and piled it up in the right-of-way. Disposal of construction material is the responsibility of the homeowner.

When I realized my four-cylinder quarter-ton Nissan was not up to the job of hauling a trailer beefy enough to carry even part of this load, I hired the big guns, G&M Haulers, two entrepreneurial Aggies who founded a business specializing in moving Texas A&M University college students between apartment complexes.

Hauling construction debris? Not so much.

Being accommodating businessmen, as well as good sports,  though, Joe and Jose showed up on on the dot of 7:00 a.m. pulling an immaculate shiny black 16-foot enclosed trailer with their dualie (I refuse to spell it dually, the Texas preference) pickup truck. For any Yankees reading this post, a dualie (or dually, but to me, the -ly ending implies an adverb rather than a noun) refers to a larger pickup truck with dual rear wheels on each end of the axle.

Four of us shoved, racked, scooped, and swept drywall debris into the trailer. We then drove to the county landfill, weighed in, and were directed to "road" carved into the side of mountain of landfill debris. At the pinnacle of landfill mountain was an orange-vested man directing traffic, so busy was this place.

The scene at the top of the mountain was surreal. Enormous earth-moving equipment with wheels 8 feet in diameter driven by grim-faced men pushed garbage around. Trash clung heavily to the huge wheels. I recognized red net grapefruit bags and green twine and plastic garbage bags. As the four of us hauled and swept and carried, two legitimate city garbage trucks backed up on either side of us and dumped their loads. Just another day at the office for them.

Circling overhead and alighting--sometimes atop the heavy equipment and sometimes on retaining fences were members of a committee--what a terrific collective noun!--of about 50 vultures.

Business as usual at the county landfill.

But that was only the first wave of drywall.

For the second load a few weeks later, I took the drywall to the largest indoor recycling center in Texas, Brazos Valley Recycling, about 6 miles west of my home, and about four miles west of Texas A&M University. What an operation! An enormous set of corrugated metal green buildings not visible from the highway. Although I had driven past the road hundreds of times, I had no idea it was there. Adjacent to the recycling facility, a dozer operator had carved an epic canyon over the years by removing fill dirt and top soil. To my Southwestern sensibilities, the canyon had very much the look of the reddish steep-walled formations in northern Arizona or southern Utah.

The owner of the recycling facility offered to give me a tour! Oh, YEAH! The business recycles construction materials; all manner of wood, and all color-separated for use as mulch; even the handy 5-gallon plastic buckets, all crushed and baled; and broken concrete. Now that's some recycling I can get behind! I was as excited as a kid at Six Flags!

In case you are wondering, gypsum--one of two components in drywall, the other being paper--is used to harden and make impervious the beds of cattle tanks (ponds holding for cattle to drink). Gypsum is also good for lawns.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A visitor from a bicycle event 25 years ago.

A few months back, a woman with whom I share a mutual friend called to ask if she could leave her truck in my driveway while she was on a birding trip hiatus en route from her job in Big Bend National Park to a new job in Guadalupe River State Park. Of course!

Karen arrived in the thick of the drywall installation.

No water.

And even if there was water, no bathroom fixtures. No indoor plumbing.

House covered in drywall compound dust.

One functional jury-rigged light in the house.

She would have to sleep in the tiny wooden trailer.

No problem.

(Thank goodness she's a camping enthusiast.)

As we got to talking, I realized we had both been among a group of about nine or ten people who drove, 25 years ago, from Tucson to Mexicali, Baja California, to join 5,000 other bicyclists in riding 120 miles southward to San Felipe: the Mexicali–San Felipe ride sponsored by Monday International. A wonderful trip built on youthful enthusiasm, calloused bottoms, and strong quadriceps muscles. Great memories: a spectacular crash and road rash when I fell asleep on my bicycle and touched the wheel ahead in the paceline, a stop for roadside tacos at almost every house and stand on the return trip, a rural resort with delicious swimming pool the day after the ride, driving out on a concrete fishing pier to purchase diesel fuel for the return trip.

From an inauspicious start to a very satisfying conclusion. As it happened, the sag (support and gear, I think) driver I had engaged cancelled the morning we were supposed to leave. Determined to go and ride, instead of being pressed into rotating sag service, I decided to ask the first person I saw that morning in the ladies room: Anna, a coworker I hardly knew.

"Anna, would you like to take off an hour or two early to drive, late into the night and early morning, a rental car filled with five unknown persons, their gear, and bicycles through the barrens of the western Arizona and southeastern California and across the border? And the next day, would you then drive alone in the car with our gear, competing for space with 5,000 bicyclists and other sag vehicles and regular traffic on the narrow road  south on the Baja California peninsula for 120 miles? And, of course, you'll be sharing a motel room with all the other females on the trip. Then we'll spend an extra play day in San Felipe. We'll pay for your lodging, but that's all. How 'bout it?"

After 10 seconds of thought, trooper that she was, Anna agreed. After lunch, she returned to work packed and carrying maps of Arizona and the Baja Peninsula and ready to go. Anna was an expert driver. And she spoke Spanish, so she alone takes credit for asking directions and finding our first nights' lodging when we were hopelessly lost. She was the angel of the event. The memory of it all still makes me smile.

Thanks, Anna. Thanks, Karen.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


The foundation levelers have completed their task, leaving a plywood subfloor, a sump pump at the lowest point under my house, and a whole new demolition/reconstruction chapter in the life of my World War II-vintage house.

I knew some drywall and ceiling panels would have to be replaced. I did not realize only one wall of drywall would be spared. A very hard-working and conscientious worker, Jose, set upon tearing out everything else, including kitchen cabinets, stove hood, and most ceiling lights.

This pile of debris, not to be confused with the pile of debris of the previous post, is largely drywall and kitchen cabinets...from a 900-square-foot house.

More discarded drywall. I feel guilty sending so much solid waste to the landfill, especially today: Earth Day.

It was almost freaky seeing my house without its walls.

Surprise! No insulation in the south, west, and east walls.

Matilda, the cat, dispassionately surveys the scene. Vapor barrier on south wall was another surprise, this one good.

I sleep in this cozy teardrop trailer.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Foundation leveling: pier-and-beam

It's actually happening! My little pier-and-beam house is being leveled, a pretty major undertaking for this type of house, as I mentioned in house ache about 18 months ago. Over the years, the beams supporting the floor have deteriorated and perhaps the concrete piers shifted. Not only were there telltale cracks in the ceiling, but also a perceptible grade in walking front to back, and uneven floors in the kitchen and study.

My original idea was to salvage the gorgeous 60-year-old red oak floor, but after two workers pried off a few slats, I realized such as not to be. Mickey, a friend with a similar house, pried off and salvages his boards, but many of mine were too delicate.

A big surprise was the absence of a plywood subfloor. The hardwood was laid directly on the beams. Another big surprise was the 4- to 6-inches of standing water under the house after this rainy spring.

Anchor Foundation Repair, though, got after it. Within two minutes of arrival, they were pumping out water and sawing out boards.

I arrived home to find my living room like this. A large, powerful fan (yellow cylinder) dried out the spongy ground. The next day, the crew threw in pounds of lime to hasten the drying process. (Note still-intact dining room floor.)

Kitchen, with cabinets torn out.

The pile of rubble composed of what was the floor and some kitchen cabinets.

Some of the lumber to be used to rebuild the floor support.

Cats explore the new playground.

Some concrete bases to support piers.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Office theory

A few observations about office dynamics.

A nonfunctional or bad worker is a net negative, not a net zero, but a negative, a drain on office energy and efficiency and morale and spirit. Almost anyone who has worked in an office situation knows this routine. The nonfunctional person—slacker, malevolent, incompentent, attitude-negative, or simply cluless—is a pebble in the gearbox. We all know the person at whose desk the workflow grinds to a halt, and the unending frustration of trying to either induce the slacker to act or else racking one's brain to try to find a way around the roadblock. The consistent rude response to any question. Not only must the efficient people do their difficult jobs, but they are forced to expend time and energy on the frustrating task of devising workarounds to move work past this inert—or worse—roadblock.

The #2 person almost always does more work than the #1 person. This observation comes from a capable and innovative water systems chief engineer (the #2 person) who was much busier than his attention-seeking (and to my mind, clueless) water system manager. In any organizations, large and small, public and private, such is the case. The hard-working, compliant, behind-the-scenes person makes it happen, while the boss enjoys the accolades and marvels at his/her own efficiency.

It's not how capable you are, but rather how you present yourself. Persons blessed with a strong, self-confident, seemingly knowledgeable presence (the "baffle them with bulls--t" type) will always trump the competent nebbish-like grind. Knowing your business, is not nearly as important, appearing to be capable and in charge. Case in point: the business assistant for a user laboratory had a confident, easy-to-get-along-with demeanor, but had raised slacking to an art form. She arrives for work every day a half-hour late, and left for home 1.5 hours early. (Ostensibly, she worked through lunch, but according to my Aggie math, even with a working lunch, that is still 7 hours.) Said business assistant did not even know how to open Excel. Unbeknownst to her supervisor, I gave her a few basic pointers in the use of Microsoft Excel. Later, her supervisor exclaimed to me how impressed she was when this employee wowed her with the versatility of Excel. Diplomacy kept me from revealing the size theworker's tiny skill set and the fact that even that much was due to my instruction.

On the backs of others. The corollary to the self-confident slacker is that the fact that the more these people shirk and allow the workload to fall on others, the more efficient they appear to their supervisors. You know the type: the person who lets everything slide, confident in the knowledge that some conscientious grind will swoop in at the last minute and frantically get it all done, while the slacker soaks up the props.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Would you care for some freshly grated bizarre experience on your pasta?

Last night, a dear friend and I celebrated my birthday with dinner at my favorite restaurant, a downtown bistro with a trendy-funky decor, with the plaster randomly removed from the walls to reveal original brick. The bistro-esque blackboard listing specials was gone. New ownership, I'd heard.

The waitstaff were all wearing double-breasted chef’s coats. A unique touch. Or maybe a touch that portends something odd. As a former waitress, I'm not unaware of the meager interpersonal skills of cooks.

All previous visits to this place have proved outstanding dining experiences. This place is my first recommendation to tourists and to visitors to my academic department. The service is attentive and the contemporary cuisine outstanding.

Last night, not so much.

After we were seated, an apparently agitated waiter (or perhaps a repurposed cook) appeared and asked for our drink order and if we would like an appetizer. We both ordered coffee and demurred on the appetizer.

The menu had changed; many of my favorite dishes were gone. Prices had, understandably, all notched up at least a dollar or two, but no longer was the crisp dinner salad with house-made viniagrette included in the price of the entrée. Effectively, prices had increased $5 or $6  per patron.

The pasta dishes, which on previous experiences were write-home-able, this evening were far off the mediocre mark. My entree was described to be rich with sautéed roma tomatoes and with grated parmesan cheese. Instead, two cold, raw, unripe quarters of beefsteak tomatoes were plopped atop a paltry portion of basil-spiked angelhair. No freshly grated parmesan cheese was offered. My date's order was described in the menu as an alfredo penne dish with sautéed mushrooms, spinach, and chicken. A generous man, he gave me one of two tiny slivers of mushroom on the plate and ate the other. I could not discern any spinach.

Appearing again, the waiter “apologized” brutishly, “Sorry I could not serve you bread with your meal. We are out of bread. Really sorry that that happened. Your meal is supposed to be served with bread, but we can't serve any."

The bistro’s signature bread, he explained is just now (at 7:30 p.m.) being kneaded.

I asked if the bread would then have to go through a rising and a baking. The baking, he explained, would take seven minutes in a convection oven. I asked, mainly just weigh in with a reply and maybe alleviate some of his stress, “If we linger a bit, perhaps we might have some bread.”

Several times throughout the meal, although we were still actively engaged in dining, fork in midair, he asked to remove our plates, twice reaching out to grasp my date's plate. Finally, the pungent bread finally arrived, and we both nibbled a slice with the last of our coffee. Four minutes later, he gallumphed up and asked if he could  remove the still-warm bread.

Then things got bizarre. What, you thought it was already bizarre?

We asked for the check. And waited.

The waiter stomped up and apologized in his agitated manner that their computer system was down and could we wait until it was back up and running for the check. Okay, we’ll linger a bit more. (Having some experience with the computerized ordering and check-generating software at my previous job, I thought about offering my assistance.)

And waited some more.

A young man who appeared to be a manager or maitre d’ or at least someone wearing street clothes instead of a chef’s coat materialized with a handful of other people’s credit cards. He made the same apologies. My friend offered to pay with cash with handwritten tab, and he agreed.

At about this time, a professional-looking couple in their 40s, who had arrived after us, got up to leave. Somehow, I sensed they had not paid. I even noted which way they walked out in case someone had to chase them down. No theatrics ensued, so I forgot about it.

A young couple who arrived after us left.

The manager walked by us four or five more times, ignoring our signal for the check.

I stood and climbed into my coat and wool scarf; my date, returning from the men’s room, into his  heavy jacket.


We estimated the amount of the check, left the cash, and got out of there.

Bizarre. I would like to know the story behind the story on this one.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sweet with the sour

Just an observation: the small anomaly, the contrast, makes life so much more interesting:

Chefs know that the taste of chile or coffee enhances that of chocolate. The flavor of fruit (or strawberry ice cream) is made sublime with a sprinkle of chile power, or even better, Tajin fruit seasoning (salsa en polvo),

Displayed at my former hair salon was a studio photo of the owner's then four-year-old grandson, respendent in a dazzling white stocking feet and sporting devil-may-care grin. His Mom was initially disappointed to have forgotten his shoes for the shoot, but the surprise of the stocking feet made the picture lively and highlights the personality of this all-boy little boy.

In the LBS (local bicycle shop), Sun 'n Spokes, in my former home town, Sierra Vista, Arizona, was a photos of female cyclist on her wedding day, posting, in her wedding gown and veil, with her mountain bike and iridescent shades.

The flower girl at the wedding in which I was maid of honor, walked delicately down the aisle, pelting friends and family with her rose petals. Long after the perfection of the wedding is forgotten, that impish flower girl will be remembered.

Of course, there are the living-large contrasts, such as the team in the Freeze Your Fanny organized bicycle event, each man wearing large sunglasses and enormous rainbow-hued wigs.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

In the lurch

I'm grousing today.

What is it with certain of my gal pals who stand me up at the last minute?

Entomologist and I were good friends, and I was always there for her: to listen for long hours when she needed a shoulder to cry on at a moment's notice, to drive 50 miles round-trip after work daily for a week every summer to look after her animals and gardens, to help her with her professional papers, to be there at distant funerals (although I had started a new job that week at was trying to make a good impression as a dependable worker) and at family celebrations.

But I was and am a good an loyal friend. She was going through a rough patch. She needed me. Later, she needed my professional editing advice. She apparently did not trust her neighbors to look after her house. She needed moral support. That what friends are for, and I was happy to be there. She visited me in the hospital after my breast surgery, indeed. Unfortunately, Entomologist was bitingly dismissive and downright mean when the tables were turned and I needed a shoulder a few years later.

Whenever we set a date for lunch, and I could almost guarantee that she would cancel five minutes before the appointed time. Sometimes I had turned down another tempting invitation because we already had a commitment. She would  invite to meet for coffee, but never commit to a time until an hour beforehand. She said I had no sympathy for how busy her life is! Busy! Ahem, I am also busy. I invited her to a concert, purchasing advance tickets when she responded in the positive. When I arrived to pick her up for the concert (about a 45-minute drive away), she declined to go. Hello!!! Could you have given me a little notice? Now I'm stuck with this second ticket and shlep alone to yet another concert.

Entomologist once asked me if I would like to go with her for a weekend hiking trip in a lovely state park in Texas Hill Country. What a lovely invitation! I so looked forward to going. So I was so hurt and surprised when, a few weeks later, she eagerly showed me the photos of her weekend-long trip to that park, oblivious to the fact that she had, once again, blown me off. I was polite and cordial, but inside, not happy.

Agriculturist three times stood me up. I know, I know, once it happens, shame on you; twice it happens, shame on me. Agriculturist seemed so apologetic the first time, so I agreed to a second date, and a third.  Agriculturist felt that because I had not called to comfirm as the date drew near, that we did not have a firm date. My take: when two parties agree on a date/time/place, it is a tacit commitment, somewhat of a pact, for lack of a better word. If one party cannot honor their commitment, it is incumbent upon that one to cancel. Ahead of time.

Almost-Professor often asked me to lunch. My office was a floor above hers, so I stopped at her office and off we went. Well, not quite. No doubt professors are busy people, as I was, working 65- to 70-hour weeks at this time. Lunch out was a real treat. Almost-Professor would invariably keep me waiting. A while. A long while. But I did not want to be perceived as impatient or as a bitch, so I waited. Okay, finally we were off. She never, once, not ever once, introduced me when a colleague of hers would greet her in a restaurant or outdoors en route somewhere. In one particularly flagrant case, she engaged in a lengthy "shop" discussion with an Italian exchange graduate student while were were en route somewhere outdoors. (The student,with Continental flair, scooted over on his Vespa to talk with us.) The student periodically smiled at me, and we exchanged nods, but never did Almost-Professor feel it incumbent upon herself to introduce us. Finally, as Almost-Professor wrapped it up and prepared to leave, I extended my hand and introduced myself, to vigorous two-handed shaking by the graduate student.

Almost-Professor, no joke, several times floated the name of a (distasteful) male colleague as a possible romantic interest for me, then immediately dismissed him (before I had a chance to firmly decline), saying, "He would not like you, [Waitress]. You don't have enough letters after your name."

These are all women of a certain age: all 35 or better, some in their 50s, so it's not the irresponsibility of youth.

Yes, I realize when one disregards a commitment with another, it is a reflection on her, not me, but I cannot help being hurt. I forgive (not forget) and give people the benefit of the doubt, but yeah, maybe I'm casting myself as a victim. But why does this happen?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sierra Vista Chicken Casserole recipe

This recipe is my own variation of King Ranch Casserole, named after Sierra Vista, Arizona, the lovely city in which I lived for 15 years.
Sierra Vista Chicken Casserole
1 to 1.5 pounds chicken thighs
¼ C apricot or peach preserves
½ C picante sauce
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 C pineapple juice
juice of one lemon
½ C white wine
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup black olives
1 can corn kernels
¾ cup Anaheim peppers, diced
2 C shredded cheddar cheese, reserving some for topping, most inside casserole
2 C tortilla chips, crushed, reserving some for topping, most inside casserole
½ pound cooked pasta
Chili powder, salt, and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350°. Brown chicken in a large pot. Mix preserves and picante; spread over chicken. Roast chicken in oven until done, about 45 minutes.

While chicken is roasting, saute onion and garlic in same pot. Mix pineapple juice, lemon juice, soy sauce and white wine. Turn heat to high and deglaze pot with juice mixture. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cook on very low heat until liquid is reduced to about half by evaporation. (Slow cooker alternative: Place chicken, pineapple juice, and soy sauce in slow cooker until done: 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high). Drain liquid into sauce pan and simmer on low heat to reduce liquid by evaporation to less than 1 cup. Remove chicken from bone and set aside. (Make chicken stock from bones for use in another recipe.)

Mix black olives, corn kernels, and chiles, and Anaheim peppers, and chile powder, salt, and pepper. In a large buttered casserole dish, twice layer pasta, chicken, corn mixture, cheese. Pour liquid reduction over cassrole, top with crushed tortilla chips and more cheddar. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, removing foil last 10 minutes.