1. New food. I’ve got maybe 18 or 20 basic meals that I can make with my eyes closed. They’re reliably tasty and lead to plenty of leftovers. The trouble is, at some point, a guy gets tired of eating the same 20 basic meals and then tries to branch out with new recipes. In and of itself that’s not a bad thing. The real injury comes after the cooking, when you sit down and the dinner table and realize that although the meal may be nutritious and even edible, you just don’t like it. I think the biggest reason I keep falling back on the tried-and-true meals that I’m a bit burned out on is that the other side of the coin is that two out of three new meals attempted turns out being something I’ll choke down because it’s hot and ready, but the remainder of which ends up being tossed into the woods when I clean out the refrigerator. With the cost of groceries and the time investment to actually cook, new and different increasingly feels like a high-risk venture.
2. Alternative Pay. The president has issued his alternative pay proposal for fiscal year 2023. At 4.6%, it’s the biggest yearly raise I’ve seen in 19 years of service. It’s a number that would feel impressive if it weren’t just half of what the official rate of inflation was this year. Having lived through the years of furlough and pay freezes, I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth, but given the prevailing circumstances of the overall economic situation, I’m also not going to hire a brass band to celebrate the “generosity” of the Biden administration.
3. Bicyclists. I don’t have any intrinsic problem with bicycles. Some of the people who ride them, however, are deeply suspect. The two who decided to cross the Susquehanna River at 4:15 on a Friday afternoon obviously had no regard for their own health and safety. Yes, what they did was nominally legal, but it seems to me it’s a case of knowing the difference between the things you can do and the things you should do. Taking up a full lane of a heavily traveled and narrow bridge during peak commuting time was patently dangerous to them and to everyone who had to unexpectedly try to avoid them. The only positive I could see from when I finally managed to shift lanes and get around them, is that the look on their faces made it abundantly clear they were aware of having made a seriously questionable life choice.
Most weeks, by the time Friday rolls around, I’ve simply had it. I try to eat a big enough lunch that dinner can be a piece of fruit, some cheese, and, if I’ve remember to pick one up, a soft pretzel with good mustard. By Friday evening the thought of the time and effort involved in actual cooking is a bridge too far – and you might as well forget about taking the 30 minutes to an hour it takes to find decent carryout. Delivery? Right. I live far enough into the wilds that nothing I’d want delivered even comes close to me with their drivers – Those that do, arrive with a stone cold meal.
This wasn’t most weeks, though. This week was special. I skipped the fruit. I skipped the cheese. I even skipped the pretzel and mustard. Moving straight on to the gin and tonic portion of the evening felt like a far better use of the small motivation I was able to dredge up. Maybe in a bit, once the juniper and botanicals have worked their magic, I’ll feel up for a trip to the kitchen to raid the peanut jar or open a can of something. Maybe. If not, that’s fine too. At the moment I’m perfectly fine and happy sitting here with no bells ringing, no email, and no one asking for a damned thing.
Growing up down the crick in the 80s, Sunday dinner with the extended family wasn’t just something you saw in a Rockwell print. Sitting around the table, weighted down with metric tons of food, presided over by my grandfather, with aunts, uncles, and cousins jammed in elbow to elbow wasn’t a television trope. Living it then, I didn’t recognize it as anything other than the normal way of things. It’s only in hindsight I can see just how remarkable those Sunday dinners were.
Sunday dinner was always the big meal of the week, but Sunday lunch is just as fixed in my memory. It was almost invariably hamburgers – fried up in a skillet, or more rarely from the electric grill on the patio, and served with chips and maybe baked beans. I’m sure there were other sandwiches, but it’s the hamburgers that seem to be stuck in my mind’s eye as I look back across the decades.
I’ve long maintained the spirit of Sunday dinner being a household “event.” It’s consistently the biggest and most wide-ranging meal I make every week… though unlike my grandmother, I’m mercifully not making it to feed a dozen or more hungry mouths.
Now, these many years later, I find myself recreating those lunches, too. Sunday lunch is hamburgers or ham salad or BLTs. Perhaps it’s not an exact recreation, of the lunches that I remember so clearly, but it’s absolutely done with intent.
I know the poet says “The good old days weren’t always good.” He’s probably on to something there. Even so, they weren’t all bad either. One of the great mercies of time is it tends to smooth off some of the rougher edges of memory. I appreciate that immensely.
I’ve ruined Sunday dinner for the last two weeks running. I mean it wasn’t bringing a hooker to Thanksgiving, having a shouting match with Aunt Mildred, or putting my elbows on the table ruined, but the food just plain sucked. I’ve never claimed to be a fancy cook, but most of the time my fairly simple recipes to satisfy my decidedly uncomplicated palate come out exactly as expected.
Even in a plague year, Sunday dinner is a big deal at my house. It’s the one day of the week I can reliably counted on to make a full and proper meal. It’s usually also the day that leaves me with plentiful leftovers to spread over the week to come. I’ve now chucked a gallon of soup and almost three pounds of beef over the fence to feed the local wildlife with what should have been half a dozen days’ worth of easy meals.
You might think roast beef and potato soup would be fairly indestructible. It turns out they’re not. If anyone needs me, I’ll be over here culling my recipe books down to about a dozen recipes that have never let me down. I’m not sure I’m mentally equipped for another disappointing meal coming out of my own kitchen.
I might be a little tired of some my “greatest hits” menu items, but I know exactly what they’re going to taste like when they hit the table… and it turns out that counts for a lot more than I thought it did before I started turning meals into absolute trash.
1. Ammo. The ongoing shitshow that is 2020 has had many troubling moments. One of the bright spots, from my perspective, is that it’s brought a huge number of first time gun purchasers into the fold – people who have made a conscious decision that self-defense isn’t something they can or should leave to “the authorities” and decided that owing a firearm isn’t, shouldn’t be, the sole province of local Bubbas and Gomers. I think it’s absolutely terrific… but holy hell, this year has made it somewhere between hard and impossible to lay your hands-on ammunition at anything approaching a reasonable price.
2. Housekeeping. If life in a plague year has revealed nothing else to me, it’s uncovered how much I truly despise basic housekeeping chores like dusting, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms. In the before time, I could get away with doing them no more than once a week since for huge stretches of time there was no one here getting things dirty. With me and the animals now occupying all parts of the house 24/7, though, I’m after it three times a week. Sure, it’s better than the alternative of being back in cubicle hell full time, but I’m not a fan of the new cleaning regime. I’ll keep at it, of course, because my deep desire for neat and orderly is far stronger than my aversion to running the vacuum one more time.
3. Cooking. Over the years I’ve grown reasonably competent at keeping myself fed. I have a three-ring binder of recipes I know I like – and most of which will provide me with a few days of leftovers so I can make large dinners for myself three nights a week instead of seven. I love every meal that comes out of that binder. The trouble is, now that we’re well into the seventh month of the plague year, I’ve made each of those recipes multiple times and the regular infusion of things picked up on the way home from work has dropped to almost non-existent. As competent as I am at feeding myself, sometimes you really just want someone else to do it. Those opportunities, by my own choice, are few and far between. Sure, I could drum up some new recipes, but, for the same reason I don’t pick new things off a menu in my favorite restaurant, that would inevitably lead to ending up spending time an effort making food I won’t necessarily enjoy. I’d rather sit down to a meal I’m bored with than risk something that’s inedible… so it looks like I’ll be spending some time over the next few weeks tweaking some of the old recipes to see what I can come up with.
1. The end. As we sit here on Thursday, we’re on the cusp of this ultra-long weekend becoming just a regular sized weekend… and the thought of going back to other people setting the agenda on what I care about or how I spend my time is just about the most depressing thing I can imagine. It’s like the Sunday “blahs” on steroids.
2. Cleaning. There is a down side of basically being home full time… and that’s the surprising amount of extra dirt that gets thrown into the house and the extra cleaning it takes to get rid of. Spending a lot of extra time cleaning definitely didn’t figure prominently in the plan for the week, but here we are.
3. Food. I’ve got a refrigerator full of food. Good food that I went to the trouble of buying and cooking over the last couple of days. I currently want to eat exactly none of it… which means I have to leave the house (because no one in their right mind delivers all the way out to Fortress Jeff). Living in the happy quiet of the woods has its perks, but it makes it awfully hard in those moments of spontaneous desire for Chinese, or pizza, or really anything other than what you’ve already got.
One of the truly underrated perks of telework Monday is throwing Monday’s dinner in the crockpot at lunchtime and spending the rest of the day smelling it come together. Sure, there are a few better smells than kielbasa and sauerkraut, but it’s one of those that ranks right up there. Yes, the 20 foot commute is hard to be upset about, but having a fresh hot meal ready when you close the books on the day is just hard to beat.
This, sadly, was not one of those nice quiet telework days where you can get a little bit caught up. It was more of a steady drumbeat of questions already asked and answered and repeating yourself until beating your head bloody against the keyboard felt like a reasonable option. There’s nothing about the experience that would have been made better by spending it in a 6×8 foot cube. Far be it from me not to recognize the small mercy of at least endure it while wearing fuzzy slippers and in the company of dogs.
So I’ll use what would otherwise be my commute time to stick my nose in a book and wait for dinner to reach peak sauerkraut-y goodness. It wasn’t a perfect day, but it was good enough.
In my mind, a few quality perks are fine compensation for a whole host of minor sins.
1. Air conditioning. If reports out of central Maryland are to be believed, we are now living in the midst of the worst rash of human rights violations in the history of the state. I wish I’d have known back in the 80s and 90s that air conditioning in schools was a civil right. It turns out mine were violated regularly between about 1989 and 1996 when I and my classmates were forced to endure education without the benefit of air conditioning with only the comforting whir of dozens of box fans stirring the broiling air inside our classrooms. Since these long-dormant childhood injuries have now been pulled to the surface by an insensitive media establishment, I’m left wondering which state office we need to file with to receive our settlement for emotional trauma and discomfort?
2. Cowardice. Courage isn’t hiding behind a brick wall of anonymity saying mean things for fun and profit while trying to make sure you don’t lose your job. If you’re a member of the administration, outraged by it’s behavior and feel that you have no recourse but to speak out against it, the only legitimate option available to you is to resign your position. Then you are free to speak out and avail yourself of every other opportunity afforded to you. When I have an opinion, unpopular or not, I post it here and make sure my name is one it. To make your stand anonymously from a position of safety protected from public scrutiny isn’t an act of bravery, but a self-serving act of personal cowardice.
3. Thursday dinner. I loath and dispise needing to cook a full meal when I get home from work. Mostly I solve that problem by over-making Sunday dinner and crock-potting something on Monday. Juicy leftover goodness is the dispensed for lunch and dinner for the next three days. By Thursday, though, the options box starts looking a little bare… and by a little bare, I mean selecting between frozen burritos, Spaghettio’s, or a tasty bowl of Corn Flakes. Sure, I could order up something for delivery, but that involves someone coming to the house, so it’s a less desirable option. I could, of course, give in, and prepare an actual meal. That option, too, feels unlikely. If it’s Thursday and you’re reading this, chances are Corn Flakes has ended up being what’s for dinner.
I like to know numbers when it comes to household operations. I track metrics on utilities because I like knowing how and why the bills are what they are. I’ve seen something on my utility statement that’s always kind of bothered me, but that I’d never bothered to investigate in detail.
You see, every 7-8 days I have a surge in the amount of electricity that I use. For a long time I wrote it off as the increased demand caused by my being home on the weekend. I took a closer look, though, and realized that the spikes in use don’t exactly correspond to the days when I just happen to be home all day. If they did, I should see three columns out of every seven standing out instead of just the periodic one day spike. I thought briefly that the spikes might be tracking the day I work from home – when I tend to have two or three computers fired up, the furnace running, and maybe a load or two of laundry snuck in to the mix. Those are all things that logically I understand consume electricity.
The problem is, that none of the usage spikes corresponded to anything like that. Some hit days when I was here. Some didn’t. Being slightly obsessive, I still wanted to know why.
I wish I could tell you I slipped off the toilet while standing on it to hang a picture and had a vision of the Flux Capacitor, but alas that isn’t the case. The culprit showed himself when I was laying out a couple of chicken breasts for a long cook. It turns out every spike in electrical draw showing on my most recent bill actually corresponds to a day when I had dinner cooking away in the crock pot.
I just assumed that the little fella sat there on the counter and cooked up a nice hot meal without drawing off as much power as I use to tend to every other electrical appliance and device operated in this house on any given day. I feel like this is something I should have known kind of intuitively since by definition the thing is sitting there drawing power for eight or more hours at a time, but honestly I’d never given it much thought.
If I were all green and earthy I might consider altering some of my crock pot recipes for oven-based cooking… but as in most things, there’s a prince to pay in terms of convenience. As it turns out it’s a price I’m happily willing to pay. I’m just glad that I now know I’m paying it… though it might just be time to go out and see if I can upgrade my 15 year old slow cooker to something newer and (maybe) more efficient.
1. Bagged salad. I need a steady supply of fresh “exotic” greens to keep the resident tortoise healthy and happy. The most convenient way to procure these greens is usually by picking up a bag-o-salad since I’m more focused on variety than buying in bulk. What I end up with half the time, though is a slimy gelatinous mass in my crisper drawer – often before I’ve even opened the bag. There’s got to be a better way to package this stuff that doesn’t leave it turned into a bag of green, foul smelling water the minute it leaves the supermarket.
2. The next question. Most people are OK at asking the question. What they generally suck at is asking the next question or the one after that. Most people are crap when it comes to really drilling down through an issue and getting at real causes. The surface answer is usually the easy one – the one that doesn’t offend anyone or hurt any feelings. Drilling down into the what and why tends to be invasive and means putting more noses out of joint and occasionally making life uncomfortable. Go ahead and be the person who make things uncomfortable now and then. You’ll be amazed at what you can find out.
3. Leftovers. I usually like leftovers but I’m in a rut at the moment. The last few weeks I’ve made my traditional big Sunday dinner and then a pot of soup on Monday. My logic was that it would give me plenty enough to ensure non-sandwich lunches and minimal cooking the rest of the week. I’m coming to the unhappy realization that even as much of a creature of habit as I am, I can’t eat the same two meals four four days in a row. It’s really kind of a disappointment, because it was a wonderful time saving plan… which seems to have lots a lot of points in execution.