What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Spring mix. Look, a hungry tortoise needs to eat. I’m slowly working on getting George to accept pelletized dry food as a supplement, but it’s a hard sell for a boy who was raised from day one eating fresh leafy greens. Fortunately, there hasn’t been a shortage of spring mix, kale, or collared greens, but I still have to schlep out to get them… and that happens just about every 4th or 5th day, because fresh greens get slimy in a hurry. I’m a past master at drying off and storing spring mix in layers of paper towels, but what I really need is for that stuff to just last for another day or two before turning to slime so I can knock down the mandatory trips out of the house from two each week to one. 

2. Masks. Reports are that the CDC is considering recommending everyone where a mask when they leave home, which is exactly counter to the recommendation that the general public didn’t need masks that they’ve been pushing for weeks. Adjusting to new information is fine, it’s how science is supposed to work. Except it can’t work that way right now. The CDC suddenly recommending that everyone should wear a mask when there aren’t enough of them in the supply chain to satisfy the demand just of the medical community is irresponsible. Sending 300+ million people out to panic buy masks will make them even harder to acquire. Even if it is the best medical advice, in the current environment it doesn’t make sense.

3. Essential. A former boss of mine could always be counted on to remind you that “words have meaning” whenever you wrote something that wasn’t exactly the way he would have put it. The thing is, you see, he wasn’t wrong. Words absolutely have meaning. We use them to convey information. The word that seems to be creating the most struggle this week is “essential.” Sure, everyone wants to feel like they’re important. They like to believe that they’re the cog without which the great machinery of state can’t run. There are jobs that can’t be deferred for a month, a week, an hour, or a minute. There are jobs that need doing right fucking now. Despite what people or bosses think, most of us don’t really make the cut. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. My diminished abilities. When I was a kid, I can remember devouring whole plates of food at Sunday dinner. In high school we’d show up for lunch and demolish entire pizza buffets. Now, after a semi-full plate and a slice of pie, I feel like I’ve just tried to ingest the entire pantry. It turns out I’m not the glutton I once was. I just can’t eat like I use to… and lord, don’t even get me started on how my metabolism is determined not to even bother trying to burn off what I do eat. It’s a hell of a thing to contend with on the holiday celebrating mass consumption and gluttony.

2. Leftovers. The only real challenge of being the guest at Thanksgiving is that even when they send you home with leftovers, you don’t have an endless supply of turkey sandwiches or the makings of a solid turkey-broth based soup. Now, I’m not in any way saying I want to be in charge of Thanksgiving dinner next year… but there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll be roasting a turkey breast this weekend for the express purpose of having sandwiches for days.

3. A million ways to die in America. One a single screen of The Washington Post, I can see three articles covering sensational ways that people died or been seriously injured over the last few days. You can take you pick… feral hog attack, tape worms laced hotpot, and bacteria laced dog licks. I’m sure if you’re the person lying in bed dying from any one of those things, it’s a very serious matter. With the sheer volume of people in the United States who don’t die of those things, though, I have to think that they’re pretty statistically aberrant ways to get killed. They’re interesting enough stories if you’re looking for filler, but mainline ink on the front page of a news site feels like something of a stretch.

Of groceries and new routines…

Cecil County has most of the problems every other semi-rural county in Maryland is facing – drugs, pockets of poverty, a questionable education system, and a government that occasionally verges on dysfunctional. It also has some remarkable natural beauty, low cost of living (for Maryland), and a convenient location between Baltimore and Philly that’s close to both, but far enough away to allow those who prefer the quiet life to avoid big city fuckery.

What the county lacks, however, are the kind of supermarkets I got use to while living in the DC exurbs or during my west Tennessee exile. The local Food Lion is convenient, but comes with limited options. Walmart has decided they’re no longer interested in my money. There’s an Acme, a company that I assumed had gone out of business 20 years ago, but its location in the heart of Elkton attracts a certain element that I’d just rather not step over, walk around, or studiously pretend to ignore just to get my weekly shopping done.

I happened to be off my usual Saturday path last week, which put another option in reach. Even looking a little dated and feeling like the aisles were too cramped by half, Safeway has it all over any of the more local options. It’s not a Kroger or a Giant, but by comparison to what I’ve gotten use to out of convenience there’s no contest.

As much as I am a creature of habit, I’m also adaptive enough to adjust when there is a better alternative available. I hate the idea of adding an extra 20 minutes to the standard Saturday errands run (and probably spending a bit more than I would otherwise on groceries), but the trade off with more and better options is too enticing… and makes me wish I’d have reconciled myself with driving to Delaware for groceries much sooner.

I’m reasonably sure the hardest part of all this will be remembering that the new routine takes me across the county from west to east instead of east to west. Pity me my first world problems.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Stomach. My stomach has been trying to kill me off and on for the last few days. It’s not debilitating or preventing me from getting on with my day, but it’s made food something of a dice roll, meaning that I traipse through the day mostly hungry in order to avoid workday unpleasantness as much as possible. Of course continuing to pour coffee down my throat probably is doing nothing to mitigate the issue. Realistically, though, if I’m going to be hungry also having me uncaffeinated feels like it’s just asking for more trouble than we’re trying to avoid.

2. Perceived time. We humans have a bit of an odd relationship with time. We struggle mightily to measure it down to the merest fraction of a second, but it’s really how we perceive the movement of time around us that matters most. I’m grown increasingly interested in the perception of time after sitting at my desk for 37 hours on Tuesday, but finding that the most recent Saturday lasted only 192 minutes.

3. Be nice. Someone from time to time will suggest that I should make an effort to be more understanding – to “be nicer.” I’m sure the suggestion is well intentioned, usually implying that I’d be more approachable, less apt to judge, or in some way become a kinder, more sensitive human being. Seriously? Have you met most people? Piss off with “be nice.” I’ll continue to respond and react to people as their actions and attitudes dictate. If you’d like me to be nicer, I’d recommend convincing people at large to be a little less dumb. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Of onions and people…

It shouldn’t shock anyone to learn that I keep extensive lists. Everything from books I want to read to what groceries I need ends up on lists I keep on my phone for quick reference and for ease of making additions or deletions. It’s an old fashioned model lightly updated by technology. It is not, however, foolproof.

A few staple items, like rice and potatoes, I usually buy in quantity because so much of what I cook is loosely based around five or so key ingredients. They get used quickly and replenished on a regular basis. Because they get used and replaced so quickly, I occasionally find that the lists haven’t kept up.

It’s on days like that – like today – that I find myself conflicted between two compelling, but mutually exclusive, desires. I can either make a quick run into town to pick up the onion necessary for meatloaf I’ve planned for Sunday dinner or I can stay home avoiding people and use onion powder as a sad substitute.

I deeply love a good meatloaf. I am also appalled by the idea of dealing with the general public when it isn’t strictly necessary. Surely you can see the hooks of the dilemma on which I find myself stuck.

This is obviously what’s meant when they “adulting is hard.”

Just a taste…

In a lot of ways I’m a simple guy. In a world where celebrity chefs and experimental cuisine are a thing, I’m sure some of my more sophisticated friends would find my taste in food horribly pedestrian. Cooking here at Fortress Jeff tends largely towards traditional – shocking, I’m sure. For most meals there’s a meat, a vegetable, and a starch. With a few exceptions, perhaps on a Saturday or Sunday, my table wine is tap water over ice.

While my menus are not as limited as they once were, there are a few favorites that appear regularly in the rotation. I can make a roast that’s a dead ringer for the traditional Sunday meal at my grandparent’s house. My lasagna tastes like it came straight out of my aunt’s kitchen. I like the tastes, smells, and textures I grew up enjoying. I may not be passing them to the next generation, but keeping them alive in this one is important to me.

Some tastes – mountain bologna from B&B Meats, cheese steak subs from D’Atri’s, and cheeseburgers from Scotty’s – I’ve given up on ever being able to recreate. There are, however, a few tastes of home that I’ve been working for years to replicate. The longest running effort in my kitchen has been the effort to put together a basic ham salad that gets close to the taste I remember coming out of Love’s Grocery in Lonaconing. Finding that flavor has been something of an obsession of mine… and I think I’ve finally managed to crack the code.

I would never claim to have the ingredient list right, but I’ve finally got the flavor – or at least something close to the flavor I remember. The internet is thick with recipes that try to raise simple ham salad to an art form – but simplicity is the soul of the whole “salad” family. It’s a food specifically designed to stretch the budget from an era when people of necessity made use of every scrap of meat in their kitchen. To me, ham salad on white bread is the taste of summer, ranking right alongside the BLT and corn on the cob.

So what’s the big secret? Apparently in my incarnation the missing ingredient was Miracle Whip. Being a Hellman’s household I never considered it before, but switching between the two changed the entire “flavor profile” of my ground ham concoction. I can’t imagine that any scientist anywhere has ever had a more joyful eureka moment.

So this Sunday morning I’ve got that going for me. If I don’t manage to get anything else accomplished today, I’ll still consider the day a wild success.