What Annoys Jeff this Week?

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.

I’ve been referred…

I went into the doctor’s office this morning expecting the normal checkup and regular drubbing for being too fat, too in love with salt, and hating all forms of exercise that aren’t yard work.

I got those things, of course, but I also got three unexpected referrals. The first involves an as yet undetermined amount of physical therapy for a back that never entirely quits hurting. The second is for a dermatologist to take a look at a stubborn bit or rash on my arms that the doc now thinks could be an acquired allergy to one of my medications. The last, well, that’s the one that just adds insult to injury.

The final referral is for a consultation with a nutritionist. Apparently, the idea of most of my collected recipes being directly from the 1950s and 60s is abhorrent and “not at all” recommended.

Yeah, well, they all taste good. Which is inevitably more than I’ll be able to say about whatever diet cardboard with lite vinegar sauce I’m about to have recommended for me. I’ll try to go in with an open mind, but the first time someone tells me cauliflower is an acceptable substitute for bread, pizza crust, or rice, you’ll be able to hear my eyes rolling from wherever you happen to be in the world.

I’m not convinced healthy people really live longer so much as it just feels longer because they’ve sucked every ounce of joy out of living. Anyway, it looks like I’ll be burning off shit tons of sick leave in the near future, so at least I have that to look forward to.

Waste…

Despite making reasonable efforts, one thing I’ve found impossible to avoid as an army of one is generating a fair amount of food waste. 

Every Saturday morning, the weeks leftovers, bread that’s started to mold, crackers gone stale, spring mix that’s slimed, and whatever other food is around that I’m just not going to eat, gets hauled out and dumped over the fence. The local critters seem to appreciate it, but it’s absolutely money out the window. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t also some low-level of guilt for what I nonchalantly throw out on a weekly basis, particularly given the increased cost of food and the sometime scarcity of staple products in our plague environment.

I’ve done my best to reduce recipe sizes but when I’m just feeding me there’s always some left. The easy answer would be to dramatically reduce the types of things I buy – just bread instead of bread and buns and English muffins. That’s fine if someone wants to be so self-sacrificing, but I like each of those things in a different preparation – sourdough bread for dipping in my over medium eggs and bacon butties, hamburger buns for, well, hamburgers, roast beef, and chicken sandwiches, and English muffins for breakfast sandies in all their various forms.

That just considers the various bread products that make regular appearances here at Fortress Jeff. Meats, produce, and most other grocery categories are equally represented. Some people are fanatical at cutting anything resembling waste. As much as I wish I was one of them, there are just limits to what I’m willing to eliminate because money is only one measure of value.

Having options is the measure that appeals most to me. The serious granola and sandals types won’t like it, but at least the local wildlife is appreciative. 

You can’t go home again…

When I go home for Christmas, I always make a point of searching out the favorite foods of my youth – unique flavors that live in my mind as essential elements of growing up in Allegany County. Across the years, savoring those tastes has become as much a part of my holiday tradition as a presents or a tree.

Sheetz coffee was a mainstay of my caffeine habit from the time I started driving. I’d go out of my way to get their standard drip brew over any other competitor. Now they’ve installed some fancy looking grind-on-demand “coffee system.” It looks pretty sitting on the counter, but what comes out of it doesn’t taste like Sheetz coffee. It might even be a decent cup of joe under other circumstances, but it’s not the flavor I wanted. For my money, Wawa or Royal Farms now offer up a better tasting selection of old-fashioned drip coffee.

For years, Snyder of Berlin (not to be confused with Snyder of Hanover) made what was packaged as “British style salt and vinegar” potato chips. As a connoisseur of salt and vinegar chips, Snyder’s was my favorite. It was an intensity of flavor not replicated anywhere as far as I can tell. Their packaging has lost the “British style” imagery… and their chips, it seems, retain only the barest hint of salt or vinegar flavoring. Herr’s and Utz now blow them away on all counts. 

The D’Atri’s cheesesteak sub has, for me, always been the definitive taste of western Maryland. That’s why I was horrified to find it something unrecognizable. Yes, it was a sub made with cheese and steak and their proprietary lettuce concoction… but the flavor profile was all wrong. Even the bread was different. It’s like walking into McDonald’s and finding that they’ve replaced their fries with tater tots. Sure, they’re made out of the same stuff, but it’s just not right. This is the one that really breaks my heart. 

Nearly all of my favorite foods from back home and back when now seem to exist only in memory. I’ve managed to recreate a few of them in my own kitchen, but most, I expect, are gone and will never return. The bright spot, in an otherwise disappointing food experience, was M&M Bakery. Their peanut butter frosted cinnamon roll doughnuts were exactly as I remember them… and that means they were possibly the finest doughnut ever devised or concocted by the mind of man. I’m wildly thankful they haven’t tried to improve upon it.

I guess old Tom Wolfe was right. You really can’t go home again. That won’t stop me from spending the next 40 years pining away for tastes and flavors I can still conjure immediately in my mind.

The consistent thread…

By the time this post goes live, it will be 6:00 Christmas night. This Christmas was different, to be sure, but there was one consistent thread the connects this Christmas to all the others; I’ve arrived at Christmas night having consumed approximately 30,000 calories and feeling like whatever’s larger than a beached whale. 

My estimate of what would constitute a nice, reasonable Christmas dinner here on the homestead ended up being something more in line to feed a family of five while providing them ample leftovers for the weekend. Overkill? Most assuredly. Still, having all the right flavors felt like an important part of marking the holiday in a plague year.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be on the couch… or possibly the floor if I can’t make it all the way to the living room.

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.