#594 – Catching Up and Setting Up

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Today has been a productive one around the apartment for me. All the things that started stacking up from yesterday have been addressed and resolved.

Today was highlighted by two deliveries. The first one came straight to our door, in a shrink-wrapped cooler. Inside were several cuts of meat and a couple side dishes from Omaha Steaks, courtesy of my in-laws. We will eat well for days off this gift.

The second one was delivered to the management office around the same time, and it’s that one that I was most interested in. That shipment was my new school laptop, which I’ve spent the afternoon and evening trying to get set up. There have been some challenges getting things working, but with a little help from our house guest, all was set right before long.

The laptop is going to have two users, one strictly for school, and another strictly for stuff outside of school. The idea is that it will be able to play games in a pinch should I find myself traveling, as I will be late next week. It means that I don’t have to take more than one laptop, which quickly becomes heavy and bulky.

Right now, it’s going through a very large download, which will take several hours, so it was timed to run overnight. It should be ready for use in the morning.

 

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#591 – Slow News Day

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Not much happened today. The real highlight of the day was going to the grocery store for the week’s shopping and buying a new laptop for school.

I spent the day hanging out and gaming with our Australian friend who’s in town for a few days. I had my first Vegemite sandwich and my first fairy bread today (both were quite tasty).

Tomorrow we’re planning to go closer to downtown for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants and then maybe head to Zilker Park downtown to see the Trail of Lights. It’s supposed to be rainy tomorrow, so that’s kind of a tentative thing for us at this point. During the day? Probably laundry and a trip up to the new apartment to show off the complex.

Plans Thwarted

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This afternoon we went to a barbecue put on by some friends of ours. We saw a few mutual friends that we already knew, a few that we hadn’t met yet, and one that we haven’t seen in years and years. The food was great – pulled pork and coleslaw bagel sliders, pork ribs, sausages, a phenomenal corn dish made with corn, cream cheese, and garlic, and other assorted munchies. The food was fantastic and the company was awesome. The plan was to eat and then throw water balloons at one another and then retire inside for a game or three of Cards Against Humanity. We carried our new, improved Bigger Blacker Box that contains about 90% of the entire CAH line.

Things started coming undone when the bottom fell out and made the water balloons superfluous. All we needed to do to get a proper drenching was just go stand outside for a few seconds, and we’d be soaked to the bone. It was mentioned that of course it rained now that water balloons were purchased for the occasion.

The other thing that affected me and my wife is the bad headache that I started coming down with shortly after we started eating. I tried to tough it out as best as I could, but it just wasn’t having any of my socialization nonsense, despite taking something to combat it. So we said our farewells, left the Bigger Blacker Box for them to enjoy, and headed home.

I hate that we had to leave early. I was enjoying myself and feeling very comfortable being social, which my regular readers know is a recent thing. Just two months ago I would have hidden in the house and done anything I could to keep from being social. My therapy is really producing results, and they are assisted by finally getting me on an effective medication regimen. The capstone on the recovery is the stuff that I’m learning in The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, Sixth Edition by Edmund J. Bourne, PhD. While I’m in the process of giving the whole book a once-through read before really starting to get in-depth with the recommended exercises, even this first reading is revealing a lot of new techniques and mindsets that are helping me a great deal.

It was mentioned to me recently by a friend that my normal seems pretty normal these days, and I’d have to agree. I haven’t had a bad day in a couple months, perhaps even longer. I hope this trend continues. I could really get used to a more normal normal.

Calm Before the Storm

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My wife and I are in Phoenix preparing for the funeral of her father. The service is tomorrow morning, and today we’ve been taking it easy, trying to avoid the 107-degree heat outside. We had breakfast with my wife’s mother, and in the afternoon my wife’s brother and his family came over to enjoy the pool and to visit for a while. We got to see our niece and nephew for a little bit before it was time to head down to the pool, and when they split off to the pool, we headed into our room to order lunch and to relax until dinner this evening. We’ve got ten adults and three kids that are gathering for an evening at Texas Roadhouse (at least that’s the plan, they don’t take reservations and a thirteen-top needs some advanced notice) and after that likely back to the hotel room for the evening.

We’ve got a little bit of time before dinner, so we’re thinking it’s going to be a good opportunity to catch a nap. Both of us are tired and we’re still preparing for the service tomorrow, where we suspect there might be some family drama that’s been building for some time. Hopefully not, but we’ll just cross that bridge when we come to it.

The squishy hotel bed calls me.

Potatoes!

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So I’ve been doing something a little weird today.

The New York Times website has a page that shows you how to make Pommes Anne, a delicious looking potato recipe from France. I’ve been obsessing over that page today.

If you’re interested, the page can be found here. It’s behind a subscription wall, but it’s a free signup. They don’t email me anything and they don’t ask for money. If you’re willing to sign up for a login, you can see the page yourself.

If you’re unable or unwilling to sign up to see for yourself, here’s the basic gist of how to make the dish. It’s labor intensive, using simple ingredients, but the end result looks delicious.

Start by preheating your oven and placing a rimmed baking sheet on the rack so it will heat up with the oven. Cut Russet potatoes into roughly evenly sized and shaped cylinders, then use a mandoline to slice each potato into thin slices. (If you like, you can add slices of garlic to the dish, but the traditional recipe doesn’t include the garlic. Slice the garlic cloves with the mandoline just as you did the potatoes.) Blot the potatoes dry.

Put a cast iron skillet on the stove and turn it to medium. Add clarified butter and begin placing the potato slices in concentric, overlapping circles to fill the bottom of the skillet. Add salt and pepper to taste, then drizzle more clarified butter over the potatoes. Add a second layer of potatoes (adding the garlic slices evenly spaced across the top of the layer, if you chose to add garlic), salt, pepper, and clarified butter. Continue adding layers like this until the skillet is full – potatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, clarified butter. This will eventually form a dome. Occasionally shake the skillet to prevent the potatoes from sticking to it.

Butter the bottom of a pan and use it to press down firmly on the potatoes. Cover with foil, then cover the foil with a lid. Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the oven, remove the lid and the foil, and press down firmly on the potatoes again with the pan. Return the skillet to the oven, uncovered, and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the sides are dark brown when lifted away from the skillet.

Remove the skillet from the oven and press down firmly on the potatoes with the pan, then use the pan to hold the potatoes in place while you drain any excess butter off the dish. Use a thin offset spatula to carefully run around the sides and bottom of the skillet to release anything that’s stuck on, then turn out onto a serving dish. Slice into wedges and serve. The end result will be crisp on the outside with a mashed potato-like interior.

I haven’t actually tried this recipe, but it sound absolutely fantastic. We’re short the cast iron skillet, the mandoline, and the thin offset spatula, but as soon as we can pick these items up – and can figure out where we’ll store them in our tiny kitchen – I want to try this dish.

There are secrets to this dish to make it turn out perfect, and the webpage goes into detail about those. There’s even a video that shows you the process, and that video is magic.

Most cooking videos available on the internet tend to rush you through the whole process of cooking, using time-lapse photography to compress the whole thing down to an easily digested TL;DR-like nugget of a minute or so. The video for Pommes Anna is somewhat longer, but the process is unhurried, and the shots are shown in real time. Doing this shows the complexity of preparing the dish and also gives the video a respectful feeling to it – you can tell that preparing this dish is a labor of love, not a quick meal on the go. It’s amazing to watch and the finished dish has a lovely presentation. The video is as much a work of art as the dish itself.

I don’t know why I’ve been obsessing over this recipe today. It’s done nothing but make me hungry for something I can’t eat for some time. But it’s gotten me looking forward to the day that we have everything we need to make it.

 

Big Milestone

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Regular readers of this blog may remember that I track my food intake through an app called MyFitnessPal. It was referred to me by my therapist and it works very well. The database of foods is expansive, it lets you enter recipes or regular meals as you wish, it gives full nutritional information for everything, and it’s free. It’s been great.

This morning, as I entered my breakfast, I was met with a small notification.

“[I have] logged in for 365 days in a row!”

I’ve been doing this a solid year. My mind boggles at that.

For the past twelve months, I’ve done my best to record every single thing that I’ve consumed, food or drink, and I have a record of it to look back on.

To be fair, there are some things that I don’r record. If a soda has zero calories, I won’t record it, and certain meals – the trip to the churrascaria back in January, for instance – that just couldn’t possibly be recorded. (A churrascaria is a Brazilian steakhouse, where the waitstaff bring unlimited amounts of over a dozen types of meat to your table for you to choose from. There’s beef, there’s pork, there’s chicken, there’s lamb, there’s sausage, plus side dishes, and there’s just no way to accurately estimate how much of what you’re getting. The portions that you receive of most meats is very small, in order to allow you to try more varieties of them, and trying to log it is just too much of a headache to be worth it.) So there are cheat days. Once or twice I didn’t actually log a thing, although I logged into the app. But the vast majority of my foods are recorded and accurately so.

When I started this a year ago I thought it was a great tool to show me how much I was consuming. I didn’t try to adjust my diet any, I just wanted to see how many calories I was eating a day and then after a period of time adjust my diet to compensate, in order to lose weight. I haven’t really adjusted my diet that much – as I write this, I’m eating a bowlful of leftover chicken fried rice – but I’ve still managed to lose 14 pounds since starting this journey. Considering that I haven’t really done anything to try to lose weight, I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished.

So now the focus is going to be on watching how much I eat. I tend to overeat on a lot of occasions and that’s the main reason I go over a day’s allotment of calories. (Once again, see the churrascaria, a place that it is VERY easy to overeat.) Portion control needs to become a thing. Then we’ll worry about pulling my diet away from comfort foods and into something a little more healthy – with the occasional cheat day, of course, still being logged.

I’m really proud of sticking with this for a whole year. I never thought I’d be doing it for that long. I’m looking forward to what the next year will bring.

Anniversary Splurge

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So last night, we did one of the things that we promised ourselves that we were going to do with the tax refund – splurge on a nice dinner for the anniversary of the day we met. (See yesterday’s post for more on that story.)

After much debate, we decided to go to Estancia Churrascaria, a Brazilian steakhouse here in town. Dinner here is a little different. Meals are all-you-can-eat. Side dishes are brought to the table family style. Main dishes are brought throughout the restaurant on saber-like skewers, where they ask if you want what’s being offered on that skewer. If you say yes, then a portion of the meat being offered is either slid off the skewer onto your plate using a knife, or carved off the skewer where you, as the guest, use provided tongs to grab the carving off the skewer and place it onto your plate. There are 16 main dishes to try (the menu is here, for those interested) and we got in on the majority of what was being offered.

In addition to the polenta, potatoes, plantains, and fried bread that came to the table as side dishes, there was a cold cuts plate that offered prosciutto, salami, smoked salmon, and fresh mozzarella balls. We were served picanha, a cut of sirloin seasoned with either sea salt or garlic (we got both varieties); filet mignon wrapped in bacon (there was a version that was not bacon wrapped that we didn’t get); ribeye; Brazilian grilled shrimp; cordiero, a carving of leg of lamb; cordiero chops, lamb chops on the bone; lombo de porco, a pork tenderloin served with parmesan; linguica, a savory pork sausage link; frango, which was chicken breast wrapped in bacon; and costela de porco, or pork ribs. Everything was juicy, cooked to perfection, and needed absolutely no sauces or seasonings other than what was done in the kitchen. All totaled, we missed only five of the 16 cuts of meat from their menu, but we were delightfully full at that point.

The table next to us had two birthdays that they were celebrating, so we wished them happy birthday and took their recommendation on the crème brûlée for dessert. We split one, since my wife was getting full and I didn’t have any business with a full dessert of my own, and we got a couple cups of decaf coffee. Somewhere in passing during the meal we mentioned to our waiter that were were celebrating an anniversary, and after that point almost everyone that came to the table wished us happy anniversary. The crème brûlée arrived at the table just as you see it pictured above, personalized for our special occasion. It was absolutely divine and the coffee was an excellent compliment to the dessert.

We got our tab and noticed that they comped the dessert, along with a little note on the receipt saying “happy anniversary.” After we paid out, we made our way out with several of the staff wishing us a good night and a happy anniversary along the way.

It was pricey, but was exactly what the doctor ordered. It’d been so long since we’ve been able to do anything special for one another to celebrate a special occasion and we were figuratively starving for the experience. It was a beautiful ending to a very special day with the most special person in my life.

Yesterday was a good day.