Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Five Meals You Eat in Heaven

Zucchini pie: the most recent meal I took a photo of.
Not one of the meals mentioned.
I have some trusted friends whose families are at about the same stage as we are – with one teenager still in the house.  My friends and I have agonized together about one of our biggest challenges – figuring out what to cook for dinner.  Yes, you know life is good when that’s your challenge.  But still, figuring out what fits in the Venn diagram of food that a) each and every member of the family likes, b) is healthy, and c) I know how to cook – it’s practically an impossibility.

My friend said that she has posted a list of meals that everyone in her family likes, and when she is stuck for dinner ideas, she just picks from that list.  I thought I would compile such a list for my own family, so recently, after dinner, we had this conversation.

Me:  Name five meals you would like to eat.

Common Household Husband:  Meatloaf, biryani, pad thai, …

Me (interrupting, before things get out of hand):  Name meals that I can cook that you like to eat.

Husband, Son, and Younger Daughter:  (prolonged silence)

The silence threatens, but no one says outright, that they do not like any of the meals I have cooked, ever.  YD breaks the silence.

YD: Mac ‘n’ cheese!  Ramen noodles! Pizza! 

(Son laughs, because he knows that preparing these foods does not count as cooking in my book.  Also, all those starchy foods are, like, a thousand Weight Watchers points.)

Son:   I like peanut chicken.

Husband:  Turkey scallopini.

Me: I just made that and nobody liked it.

Husband:    I liked it.

Me:   YD wouldn’t eat it.

YD:  I like spinach enchiladas.  … And chicken parmesan.  And tuna noodle casserole!

Son:  You can cook chicken parmesan on a campfire!

Me (getting surly):  I’m not doing foil cooking.

Husband (tries to be reasonable but quickly veers into the impossible: How about spaghetti and meatballs?  Or… I know! Stuffed guinea hens!

YD:  Goat meat!

Son:  Peacock!

Husband:      Peacock isn’t kosher. 
(We shall ignore the fact that we don’t keep kosher, and just go with the fact that there is no possible way to legally obtain peacock meat. All these meats flying back and forth make me think back fondly to earlier in the summer, when Older Niece cooked some great vegetarian meals for us.)

Husband:  How about pea soup?

Me:  YD, will you eat pea soup?

YD:  I’ll eat it, as long as it has plenty of bread to go with it.

Son:  So you’ll have a pea soup sandwich.

* * * * *

I really can’t complain too much.  Cream of mushroom soup was not mentioned once.  And for my birthday earlier this month we did get to go out to an Indian restaurant where the food was divine.   Indian food is definitely served in heaven, as are fresh ripe peaches on cereal, Maryland Silver Queen corn, caramelized onions on anything, and my mother’s apple pie.

What would be on your list of divine meals?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

What we learned: Junior Year Edition

It is almost time for the school busses to roll.
Last year I neglected to do my annual interrogation of my children on this topic.   
Now that school is about to start again, it’s time I let on what two of my children learned this past school year.  The oldest one has graduated from college (! ! !) so there will be no report from her, although I believe that she has also learned quite a lot this year about Life In General.

Younger Daughter, about her junior year of high school:
“I learned how to write a 40-minute essay. I learned about LBJ, who is awesome.  And about the ridiculous process by which our country is run, and that Britain is better.  ….. Then there was Chem, in which I learned that chemistry is hard.  In Creative Writing I learned that flash fiction is harder to write than a short story.”  
Her Dad: “What is flash fiction?”
Older Niece:  “It is hard to write flash fiction.”
YD: “It's also known as lightening fiction.”
Son: “Drive-by fiction?”
YD: “Math... (Sigh) I learned that math is also hard.  In gym I learned that all the gym teachers tell you that how hard you try matters more than how you perform, but Mr. L* is the only one who actually believes it.  In Latin I learned that pink is good.  It's Magistra R's favorite color.”

*Mr. L was her teacher last year, but sadly, not this year.

Son, about his junior year of college:
“In Process Control I learned that when the professor offers a project for you to work on instead of the one you thought of, you should take him up on it.  In Transport I learned about tensors.  In the laboratory class I learned that a Hickman Still is very expensive.”
His Dad: “Did you break it?”
Son:  “Well, yes. But I already paid for it! This year I had to pay $80 for broken glassware.  That's why I'm a chemical engineer.     I don't think I learned anything in Communication for Engineers.”
Dad: “And so you wouldn't be able to tell us.”
Son: “In Separations I learned how to design a distillation process.”
Dad: “So you're going to make whiskey!”
Son:  “In Measurements Laboratory I learned how to do small-scale experiments, like on a reactor, and then scale it up to a big reactor.  And I learned how to use Excel.  … I didn't really learn anything in Microfabrication class.”
Dad: “Maybe you learned very little.”
Son:  “In marching band I was a section leader.  I learned in Wind Ensemble that there is one person I should not sit near. He plays all the time like he is in marching band, very loud, with no variation in tone, and his horn was not in tune.”

Other members of the family learned:
- that group projects are horrible. Especially if you have three at the same time, and especially if some of the people are at a different school.

- that science can be more like telling a story rather than just churning out numbers.

- that I should not run, especially not downhill, and especially not while holding a camera.

Here is sweet Younger Daughter, about one year old,
probably writing an essay of some kind.
In a few days, she will start her final year of high school!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Saying Kaddish for Viktor Frankl

On Friday night I said kaddish (the Jewish mourner’s prayer) for Viktor Frankl, a man I never knew. Just privately without announcing his name, because that would raise too many questions.

Two years ago Facebook asked us to post “ten books that have affected me.”   Usually I have at least heard of the books people mention, if not read them myself. My friend MM said her list included Man’s Search for Meaning.  How is it that I had never heard of this book?  Perhaps because part of its focus is Frankl’s psychology theory, and I didn’t study psychology.  

Finally, this summer, I got around to reading it.  Light summer reading it is not!

The first part of the book describes his experience in Nazi concentration camps and examines the psychology of what happens to prisoners in those conditions.  It’s a short book, 154 pages, but because of the subject matter, it’s not an easy book to get through.

Frankl describes the horrors that he went through in a way that analyzes what is happening to him and the other prisoners.  The prisoner’s psyche descends, as he enters into that prison system of humiliation and death, from shock to apathy, an “emotional death” of sorts.  The struggle to maintain a sense of self-respect became necessary for life itself.

Frankl’s theory of psychology, “logotherapy,” is derived from the Greek word logos, “a Greek word which denotes ‘meaning,’” according to Frankl.  He contends that the primary driver of human motivation is the search for meaning, rather than the search for pleasure or power. 

I remember two cases of would-be suicide… Both used the typical argument – they had nothing more to expect from life.  In both cases it was a question of getting them to realize that life was still expecting something from them; something in the future was expected of them.  …. .  A man who… knows the “why” for his existence will be able to bear almost any “how.”  (p. 88)

I am unqualified to judge Frankl’s theory of psychology.  But I can point out that in the 1920s and 1930s, before the age of 30, Frankl was already working at helping to prevent suicide.

1930   He organizes a special counseling program at the end of the school term, whereupon, for the first time in years, no student suicide occurs in Vienna.                     

With the invasion of the Nazis into Austria in 1938, Jews were forbidden to treat non-Jewish patients.

1940 – 1942 He becomes director of the Neurological Department of the Rothschild Hospital, a clinic for Jewish patients. In spite of the danger to his own life he sabotages Nazi procedures by making false diagnoses to prevent the euthanasia of mentally ill patients.

In 1941, with full understanding of the fate that he faced, he turned down an immigration visa to the US so that he could stay with his aging parents.  In 1942 he and his whole family were arrested and taken to the camps.  His wife, unborn child, parents, brother and brother’s wife were murdered in the Nazi camps.  The only other member of his family to survive was his sister, who had escaped to Australia.

I was amazed to learn that after World War II, Viktor Frankl chose to return to Vienna.  He became the head of the Vienna Polyclinic of Neurology.  His second marriage was to a practicing Catholic, so it was an interfaith marriage.  He spent many years as a professor of neurology and psychiatry, and was guest professor at a number of US universities.  He died in 1997 at the age of 92.

So I, a Christian woman, said the Jewish mourner’s prayer for him because he was a person who cared for and about others, in spite of everything that happened to him.  The original title of his book was:

Nevertheless, Say "Yes" to Life:
A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Surfaces and Reflections

Carmi at Written Inc has asked for reflective photos.

Here are my entries.  Please click on the photos to embiggen.

The best place to start is, of course, The Bean in Chicago's Millennium Park.  This has got to be the most reflective surface on the planet.  (An aside:  I don't know what Chicagoans call this structure.  Officially its name is "Cloud Gate.")
The Bean on a bright day in October 2015

The great city of Chicago, as seen in the bean.

That's us, the Common Household Parents!

Then there are mirrors.  Here is the mirror in the dance studio at Disney.  Also a self-portrait of one of the marching band photographers.

Water is a prime reflective surface.  Here's a few I have taken in the past year.
Reflection in the park, February 2016
Self-portrait in Feb 2016

placid Slippery Rock Creek at McConnells Mill State Park
on Father's Day, June 2016

Rocky reflections in Slippery Rock Creek

The moon reflects the light of the sun, right?  Here is the moon rising over the marching band last fall.

I can't help but get a little theological.  I consider that we each are a reflection of the divine, rather like these cakes.

How the cake is supposed to look, as pictured
in the recipe book. Divine.
The cake in real life.  
My husband called this a weapon of mass destruction.
It's one of the scariest cake's I have ever made.
Please go to Written Inc for more entries!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Cooking up a storm of vegetables

During July, we were delighted to have my delightful niece, Older Niece, visiting us. 

Her visit was conditional on her agreeing to show me how to cook some vegetarian dinners.  She more than fulfilled this bargain.  Our vegetable consumption increased three-fold, and our meat consumption declined.  Except the Common Household Husband got fed up (ha!) one night, and brought home Sesame Beef take-out from the Chinese restaurant.

Here are just two of the dishes that ON prepared for us.

Dish #1
Available vegetables
Onions, mukimame and spices

Adding sesame oil.  Yummmm!

Voila, it's Whatever-Veggies-Are-In-The-Fridge
Stir Fry

Whatever-Veggies-Are-In-the-Fridge Stir Fry

vegetable oil (we used canola oil)
onions, chopped
whatever veggies you have in the fridge, chopped
mukimame, if you have it
cooking sherry
soy sauce
sesame oil
garlic, minced
fresh ginger, grated 

In a large frying pan, heat vegetable oil.  Add onions and fry for a few minutes.  Add the other vegetables and fry for a bit.  Add the flavorings and fry for a little bit more.   Serve over rice, couscous, or some other grain of your choosing.

When we made this, we were just getting back from a visit to the Old Folks’ Home, so I had been driving for 5 hours and didn’t feel like driving to the grocery store.  I didn’t write down the recipe at the time, so I have no idea how much of the flavoring Older Niece used.  Going by my photos, our stir fry had celery, carrots, (frozen) broccoli, and mukimame.  Mukimame is edamame without the pesky shells.  I get a bag of it in the freezer section of the grocery store.  I like using freshly grated ginger root, but I also keep a jar of already grated ginger (not quite so fresh) which is easier to use after a long day.  It can take a while to grate a small amount of fresh ginger root.  But YUM!

Here is my text to my brother (ON’s father) and his response about our delicious dinner.  He knows that I detest mayonnaise.

Dish #2
Can we just agree that almost every delicious meal
begins with frying onions?
The expert hand of Older Niece
O cilantro, how I love thee!

Older Niece’s Tomato-Chickpea Stew

Total cooking time: about 20 minutes

2 medium-large onions, chopped
2 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes, drained
canola oil for frying pan
1 tsp or so minced garlic
2 16-ounce cans garbanzo beans (chick peas)
a sprinkling of ground coriander seed
a sprinkling of black pepper
a large sprinkling of thyme
a medium sprinkling of oregano
¼ to ½ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
salt to taste.

Prepare everything that needs to be chopped.

Heat oil in large frying pan.  Add onions and cook for a few minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute.  Add all the other ingredients.  Let it all simmer in its juices for about 5 minutes.

This was really delicious, and rather quick and easy to make.   If you wanted to feed fewer people, you could use just one can of tomatoes and chick peas each!

* * * * * 

I hope to have more recipes in the near future but I'm crazy busy these days.  In the meantime, if you like, put the title of your favorite vegetarian main dish in the comments - for future veggie inspiration for us all.