arrived

by dichroic in daily updates

I almost forgot to say that Ted’s present arrived Monday! So I don’t have to worry about faking something up for him to open. Now I just have to hope he likes it – it’s an original painting by an old friend, loosely based on a photo I took, so he will certainly like the idea of it. I just hope he loves the painting in esse, as well as in posse. (Assuming that’s the right way to use those phrases.)

That’s his birthday present. His Christmas present is a thumbdrive made to attach to an iPad. You can apparently store movies on it and play them directly from the drive. We don’t have wifi at the lake house, so he loads up a few movies before heading down; I have already craftily pointed out to him that if we watch the movies he’s already got loaded early in our holiday, he can load up more while we’re visiting his parents (assuming his mom either hasn’t changed the wifi password or remembers what it is – she favors long and complex ones). So having this drive to load extra movies on should be welcome.

There’s only one package yet to arrive before we head south tonight: my present for the cats. At least they won’t feel deprived if it’s late.

odd things I miss from the Netherlands, part #9234

by dichroic in daily updates

At this time of year, when I’m getting read to take a long vacation from work, I miss the phrase “t/m”. It is very useful, and we have no good equivalent in English. It stands for “tot/met”, literally “to/with” and is used in the sense of “up to and including” as in “I will be on holiday from tomorrow t/m January 2”. There’s no easy way to say that in English that doesn’t involve a lot more typing!

But the thing I think we both still miss most is still living in the center of town and being able to walk to millions of restaurants within a 10-15 minute stroll. (Even if they all serve so slowly that every dinner out takes two hours!) OK, maybe not millions, but I bet there are over a hundred bars and restaurants within that distance from our old flat. We could live in the Pearl here, but even there the restaurant density is not nearly as high, plus our house would cost three times as much as the one we bought in Hillsboro and our commute would be forty minutes instead of five (except when there was bad weather or accidents, when it could double). And the rowing club – we miss the rowing club a lot. Portland has them, they’re just a bit far to make rowing on workdays practical.

holiday concerns

by dichroic in daily updates

On Saturday we went to Ruth’s Chris, as an early birthday dinner for Ted. Normally we’d prefer to try some of Portland’s unique restaurants but there are actually only a few specializing in steak and more importantly, I had a gift card. My company always used to send out an AmEx gift card to every employee at the holidays; I always thought that was a little strange, since this is also when profit-sharing bonuses happen, but OK, not complaining! Anyway, this year we have a new recognition and rewards program where you can earn points and pick your prizes, so they used that instead. In addition to everything from jewelry to blenders, they had several gift cards available, so I chose the Ruth’s Chris one.

We’ve been to their restaurants in Houston, Scottsdale and Taipei, and it’s always been a true fine-dining experience. This one, however, only partly succeeded in that regard. The steaks were as good as ever, and the service was quite good, except for a minor bobble where the server gave me the wine to taste (I’d done the ordering) and then handed me the cork afterward. Not a big deal and certainly not something that would affect the tip I left, but it does show a lack of clearness on the whole concept. The idea is to sniff the cork first, just in case the wine has gone so bad that even one sip would be unpleasant. (That happens so vanishingly rarely these days, or maybe ever, that it doesn’t really matter much, but that is the idea.)

Anyway, the problem was the restaurant itself. You walk right in to a large, very high foyer facing a stairway to the second floor. (Here’s someone’s photo) It’s a single door, not a double “airlock” style of door. The bar is on your right and the restaurant seating on your left; the upstairs seems to be devoted to rooms for private parties. It’s all very open. Of course, the upstairs and the bar were both very busy, since it was the Saturday before Christmas Eve. This was also an usually cold weekend in Portland (when I drove to work to work this morning, there was still a little snow on the road). We were seated at a table right on the edge between the dining area and the lobby. So it was noisy, open, and very cold – not the atmosphere I’m expecting when I’m paying those kind of prices for a special-occasion dinner.

The server did apologize for the cold, and they comped our dessert – I think they felt guilty after noticing that Ted kept his winter coat on the whole time. But the nicest part happened when we went to pay. When I’d ordered the gift cards, I had a choice of “spending” $50 or $100 of my points; I chose the $100 option, so when two cards arrived in the mail I just assumed they were two $50 cards. Nope – apparently someone somewhere made an error and sent me two $100 cards, so our dinner was free – even after I made sure to tip based on the original cost including dessert, since the server really was trying her best.

And then on the way home, Uber quoted us a higher-than-usual price, as we expected due to Saturday night high demand, but only actually charged me the normal price.

I almost feel a little guilty, since I was supposed to be treating Ted – but not quite. I may end up feeling guilty about his birthday present, though. A while back, I posted a photo of our lake to Facebook, and an old friend asked if I’d mind if she based a painting on it. Of course I said that was fine, and asked her to send me a photo of the completed painting. That was a few weeks ago, when I was still deliberating about a present for Ted – it’s a milestone birthday, so I needed something special. So I asked if I could buy it. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to ship it for a couple of weeks – apparently it takes a while for all the layers of paint to dry. It’s in the mail now, but while I told her I was hoping to get it for his birthday, I forgot to tell her in time that we’d be heading down to the lake a couple days ahead of time. (I was going to email her the very day a note arriving saying she’d shipped it – my fault entirely.) So it may not arrive until after we’re gone. At least it won’t have to stand out in the weather; when I grumbled about this on Ravelry, someone smart suggested asking the Post Office to hold our mail while we were gone, and that turned out to be surprisingly easy to do. (Really, the usps.com site lets you do a lot of useful things very easily.) So I’ll be wrapping up a printout of the painting with an IOU; I’m trying to figure out a way to make it more special (like maybe faking up a frame, or wrapping it in a box if we have one the right size).

Three workdays left before break!

Shrimp po’boys, rethought

by dichroic in cooking

Last night’s dinner was so tasty that I wanted to write it up. These are not proper shrimp po’boys; proper ones have the shrimp breaded and fried, and the remoulade sauce is much more complicated. However, these are easier to make at home for one or two people, mostly involved stuff I had on hand (I just had to buy the bread) and are extremely tasty with a real Cajun flavor. Quantities given are for one sandwich; it would be easy to double or triple.

Ingredients:
small baguette (I used half of what the local fancy supermarket calls a mini French baguette), sliced in half for a sandwich
about 6 medium shrimp per sandwich – big enough to be satisfying to bite into, small enough to fit on the bread
small tomato
Lettuce (I used red-leaf, that being what I had)
Cajun seasoning
Cooking oil

Hasty Remoulade sauce approximation
mayonnaise – about 2 heaping Tbsp
pickle juice
Worcestershire sauce
Tabasco
1 clove garlic, minced or crushed

In a small bowl, mix the mayo with around 1/2tsp pickle juice, a dash of Tabasco, a sploosh of Worcestershire sauce and the garlic. Stir and set aside. Heat a bit of oil in a saute pan. Meanwhile, toss the shrimp with a generous amount of Cajun seasoning. Saute the shrimp until pink all the way through; while they’re cooking, slice the tomato and cut the lettuce into ribbons. Toast the bread (I just put it under the broiler for a couple minutes). Spoon the remoulade sauce onto both halves of the bread. Line up the shrimp on the bottom half, top with the lettuce and tomato.

THIs time it was actually possible to eat the sandwich as a sandwich; other times I’ve had to use a knife and fork. It probably depends most on the relative sizes of bread and shrimp. But I cooked nearly half a pound of shrimp, and cut up too much lettuce and tomato (as i always do) so whatever didn’t fit on the sandwich I ate as a salad. It was awfully good.

Tonight Ted had his third work dinner in a row (apparently the snow we’re having didn’t make them cancel it, silly people) so I had bangers and mash, if that’s the proper term for andouille sausage and mashed potatoes made with garlic and sour cream. This may actually be the first time in my life I’ve used up an entire container of sour cream without having any of it go bad (excepting times when I bought the container and used it all in a single recipe).

the story of three menorahs

by dichroic in daily updates

Quick note: Technically I’m talking about Chanukiot (plural of chanukiah), which have nine candles and are used for the holiday Chanukah. THe word “Menorah” can also refer to the seven-branched candleabra used as a symbol of Judaism, but it’s the more common term and we often talk about Chanukah menorahs, and that’s the term I’m more likely to use.

Some people have the tradition of letting each member of a family light their own menorah each night, but we (and everyone else I knew growing up) just had the one. Now I have three, though I only light one at a time.

First came the brass one I bought for my first apartment, for my first Chanukah on my own after college. It’s sturdy and solid, except that the edges of some of the candle sockets have sort of started to come off the rest of the metal. I’m not sure where I got it, because there wasn’t really a Jewish community where I lived and online shopping wasn’t a thing yet – probably I asked my mom to send me one. This one is smallish and easy to store, so it lives in the Hillsboro townhouse with us.

The other two menorahs are bigger and live on display shelves at the lake house. My favorite of all of them is the one I’ve probably used least in recent years, because I mostly haven’t had it with me. It consists of a big thick piece of glass with a picture of Old Jerusalem etched or incised into it, slotted into a wooden foot. There are metal discs along the top, upon each of which sits a ceramic candleholder with a magnet base. It’s a beautiful thing, but I didn’t take it with us during our expat years for fear of breaking it, and for the past few years, Chanukah has mostly been far enough ahead of our Christmas break that I wasn’t at the lake house to use it.

The third menorah is the one I didn’t need, but it jumped on me and declared it was mine. In the middle of a (somewhat miserable otherwise) 3-month business trip to Woostuh, MA, in the depths of winter, I drove up a couple of hours to visit a longtime online friend who lives just on the far side of the Maine border. She took me to Portsmouth, NS for lunch, and at a small gallery there I saw it. This was in 2001, when I was doing a lot of flying while not on business-trip Siberian exile – it was just three and a half years after getting my VFR rating. So when I saw a colorful menorah that was not only a biplane, but also had a pilot that could be taken to be female, I was hooked. But I didn’t need another menorah, and it was more $$ than I wanted to spend for a thing I really didn’t need. I was haunted by thoughts of it for about two weeks, until I caved and drove back up to buy it (and visited my friend again). I’ve never regretted that purchase, and it taught me something about going ahead and buying the thing, if you can afford it, and if it’s something that you really want, and might not be able to find again.

Maybe when we head down to the lake for our holiday break I’ll remember to post some photos. We’re probably not having a tree this year (because we’re spending Christmas itself with Ted’s parents) so it’s a good time to focus on Chanukah! Come to think of it, I need to remember to pack the small brass menorah to take with me to their house, since Chanukah begins on Christmas Eve this year. We had a Seder at their house once, so I’m sure they’ll be good with me lighting Chanukah candles. (By “good”, I don’t mean “they’ll allow me”, I mean, “they’ll make a nice space for the menorah and probably come listen to the blessings each night, with love for me and respect for my traditions”. I won the in-law lottery.)

Holiday Challenge update

by dichroic in daily updates, rowing

I haven’t talked much about this year’s Holiday Challenge, but it’s proceeding apace – I’m up to 182km and expect to finish midweek. That was fostered by the 25km piece I just finished (“just” as in haven’t even showered yet – I’m heating up lunch first). (Actually yesterday – I wrote this piece and forgot to hit Publish, because erging is not good for braining. This morning I’ve now done another 15km.)

I did it at marathon pace, which is to say not fast, and I’m a slow rower to start with – it took me 2:28:37 to finish, giving me a split (time to row 500m) of 2:58.2. That equates to a pace of about 6 minutes per kilometer or around 9.5 minutes per mile. These long pieces can really eat up a weekend day 🙁

I’ve also concluded that The Martian is a terrible audiobook for erging. Somehow, you don’t want a book about endurance when you’re actually doing an endurance piece; you want something with a lot more quick action. As audiobooks usually run from 8-20 hours long, even with an action book you don’t really have to worry much about it not lasting the length of multiple pieces. Also, at one point I looked at my phone and noticed he’d already survived the accident, figured out how to make soil and water, planted the potatoes, and Earth had figured out that he was alive – and yet the book had 9 hours left. Unless the book is farther from the movie than I expect, I think it might get a little tedious – and even for an engineer, it’s a bit technical for a workout book.

more holiday stuff

by dichroic in daily updates

Pursuant to yesterday’s dilemma, I returned the expensive beeswax candles and told them why. The guy I spoke to didn’t seem to be unduly concerned. He told me they rarely carried “petroleum-based” candles, but that the reasonably priced ones I’d bought there last year probably were petroleum based. Meanwhile, I note that Amazon prices for similar candles are more like $11$16 – Whole Paycheck is living up to its nickname. (Amazon’s are not marked as being discounted from a higher price – I don’t think they’re undercutting prices here, because if they were they’d brag about it.)

Of the other local stores I frequent, I forgot to check whether Fred Meyer has any Chanukah candles, but if they do they won’t be the nicer looking ones. Meanwhile, New Seasons has done away with their Jewish and other “ethnic” sections – they still have the same products, just integrated with everything else. For instance, if you want kasha, you need to look with the other grains. I can see advantages to this – for one thing, it normalizes eating Jewish, Mexican, or Asian foods. On the other hand, it makes it harder to figure out where to find specialty or seasonal products like Chanukah candles or Passover matzah. If I see candles there, I might buy a box for next year – just to establish that there is a demand.

I’m about two-thirds done my share of our holiday cards. This has been a very boring year for us, so much so that our holiday letter was a very short one this year. Sad when you can’t think of much to say about a whole year!

because all lives matter, just not after they’re born

by dichroic in daily updates

Tin soldiers and Trump is coming,
We’re finally on our own.
This winter I hear the drumming,
More dead in Ohio.

I think it’s time for Neil Young to do an update. When I was in college, I had a button that read “Pro-abortion … or amateur abortion?” with a picture of a coathanger. I stopped wearing it because it grossed out even my most pro-choice friends, and I probably wouldn’t wear it now on the theory that wearing buttons doesn’t do much good anyway, but I wish I still owned it.

In other annoying news, today I spent $26 (!) to buy Chanukah candles at Whole Foods, the only one of the local supermarkets that reliably carries them (or used to; I had to ask for help finding these, as they were tucked in back of a display full of other kinds of candles. I haven’t decided whether I should return them and buy cheaper ones from Amazon, or keep them to demonstrate there *is* customer demand for them out here.

nearly ready

by dichroic in daily updates

It feels deeply weird to me to have Chanukah so late this year. It’s also harder, because my mom and brother have birthdays in Early December, so though I generally try to give separate presents for each thing, I can usually do them all at once. This year, I need to handle them in two lots. Ted’s birthday is always right near CHristmas, but I’m not sure that’s good either. (For one thing, I don’t need to ship his presents!)

Still, I’m in decent shape holiday-wise. I have the ‘thing’ part of Mom’s gift and just need to figure out what to do for the donation part (I don’t usually do both, but a) it’s a milestone birthday and b) this year it feels particularly important to support charities that support those who will be hit hardest by the recent US election. I’m trying to decide between Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Rescue.org (International Rescue Committee, or maybe something Jewish. The Chanukah gift for her and my brother’s family is tickets to go see a musical aimed at kids (Elephant and Piggie) in the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia – I think they’ll all enjoy that.

My brother is accounted for – I knit him something last year that took way longer than expected, so he’s getting it this year plus a few other things. He’s got enough enthusiasms to be easy to shop for. (His wife is much harder!) I just need to get his box packed up and shipped this weekend.

Ted’s becoming harder to buy for, because we really just. don’t. need. more. STUFF in the house!! But a friend had recently asked if I’d mind if she painted a picture based on a photo of mind, and sent me a photo of the finished piece yesterday. I loved it and hope he will too, so I asked her if I can buy it. Luckily she was businesslike about it and just quoted the price she normally sells for, so we didn’t have that awkward friendship dance – I prefer to pay what art is worth, if I can. (Though it’s true that we have three other paintings in the house needing to be better displayed. One was a gift from another friend – it’s displayed but just sitting on a bookshelf, unframed; the second was a gift someone gave Ted when we left Taiwan – not someone we were close to and I don’t love it; and the third Ted painted himself at one of those painting group events. The first one of those, the gift from a friend, is the only one I really care about, and we probably should protect it with a frame.

He takes care of his side of the family (aside from some socks I’m almost done knitting and a couple dishcloths I need to do), so a couple things for friends and one knitting gift exchange, and I’m about done.

book: Fallen into the Pit (Inspector Felse)

by dichroic in books

One of the books I’m recently read is Fallen Into the Pit, by Ellis Peters. She’s best known for Brother Cadfael, but this one is an Inspector Felse mystery (contemporary, published 1951). Lately I’ve been reading a lot of BritLit from WWI to just after WWII (DE Stevenson, Angela Thirkell, Elizabeth Cadell), and in the past I’ve read lots more from then and earlier: Miss Read, Sayers, Christie, Tey, Conan Doyle, R. Austin Freeman (Dr Thorndyke mysteries), Gaskell, Dickens, Trollope, etc, etc. I can only conclude that English writers up through the 1950s or so just really don’t like Jews. At best, you get a Jewish character who is not too bad, or alien-but-really-a-decent-person, like a couple of Dr. Thorndyke’s clients or the jewel dealer Lord Peter Wimsey works with. This book is really about the only one I can remember that has a completely sympathetic portrayal of a Jew.

She’s a German Jew, a Holocaust survivor who had made her way across Europe, ended up in England, married a farmer and lived a very quiet life. Her whole family were killed by the Nazis. Peters does a remarkable, sensitive job in imaging what her inner and outer life would be like, how she might think about her past, how she could be able to reach toward happiness again. It’s also good to see that she is completely accepted by not only her husband and their shepherd but all the locals. There is some anti-Semitic ugliness, but it’s from an intruder, a German POW still in England, and Peters means it to be ugly and intrusive – it’s not shown as ‘normal’ or OK in any way, and it’s not accepted by her family or the neighbors. Even Felse, the local police inspector, offers his support once he finds out she’d been harassed, though it’s too late at that point.

It’s a very pleasant change from having to shut your eyes and hurry past the icky bits in Sayers and the rest of them.

Only problem is, I liked this book a lot but now I’m not sure I want to read the read of the Felse mysteries, because from reading reviews I get the feeling she switches focus to other locales and to a grown-up Dominic Felse, and doesn’t really develop this setting or these characters further.