Day 115 – Roses are Red

2013.06.16Today was a great day.  We started with a family breakfast; waffles, bacon, eggs and fruit.  My wife and kids whipped up a wonderful table full of food and we sat together, laughing and talking.

After the breakfast dishes were cleared and the mess was cleaned, Anita and I went for a good, long walk.  It was my fourth exercise of the week (or in her mind, the first exercise of the new week).

The afternoon was spent with my parents and a few of my siblings as we celebrated Father’s Day with dad.  It was a fun day and we made it home in time to fire up the grill and try it out with a whole chicken.  I was thrilled to know that I could monitor the temperature of the grill and the bird, adjusting for cooking time and temp.  While it cooked, I continued reading my book and sipping on some red wine.  By the time the sun was setting in the west, we were ready to taste some cheese and a perfectly cooked chicken.  I think Anita enjoyed the bird as much as I did.

It was one of the most restful days I’ve had in a long time and I can’t think of a better way to spend a Father’s Day.

Day 109 – The Perfect Evening

A perfect dinner for a perfect evening.
A perfect dinner for a perfect evening.

If you’ve been reading long, you know that we’ve invested more than a few hours, a lot of blood, and just a few tears in the upkeep of our home.  And to be honest, we’re tired.

And so, last night after throwing a party for our son, we threw our own little party to celebrate our summer, our marriage, and our friendship.

On the way home from work I stopped at the store and picked up a Baguette, some cheeses and a good bottle of wine.  I set out the spread, along with some additional fruit left over from Ben’s party.

When Anita arrived home, we put on comfortable clothes, filled our plates and had a wonderful dinner together.  From there, we retired our neighbor’s home and had a pleasant visit.

It was a wonderful evening and the marker of our new life with children out of school and living real lives.  It marked the point in our lives together when we can enjoy one another.  Sure, the boys showed up and scarfed down the remaining shrimp and most of the Gouda, but we announced that we were retiring to the neighbor’s and would see them at a later time.  Oh, and, clean up before you are done.

It was heaven.

Anita enjoys our neighbor's cat as we visit.
Anita enjoys our neighbor’s cat as we visit.

Now that the push to the Open House is complete, we can take a more leisurely pace about our home projects and spend time with one another, and honestly, on ourselves.

My Journey to 50 has been sidetracked by household projects and 50-hour work weeks.  But now we are back on track.  Starting tomorrow (Day 110), I’ll take time in my day to ride the stationary bike and focus on my food and my progress toward my ultimate goal:  Get down to 180 and get fit.  Only 30 pounds in 255 days.  I can do that.

I can do that.  Especially if my best friend is along for the ride.

Day 92 – Amazing Amazon

2013.05.24Earlier this week, my father-in-law bragged about the health benefits of Sardines.  He went on and on about his search for the perfect Sardine and getting the best deal on shipping.  In that moment, I pulled out my smart phone, opened the Amazon App, and ordered a dozen cans of Crown Prince Sardines.  For $1 a can, I had free shipping and guaranteed delivery.

I ordered these delicious fish on Wednesday evening.  They arrived on my doorstep today.

What a fantastic way to end my week.  Perfectly packed, in beautiful boxes, these little fishes will provide a tasty meal, whether breakfast, lunch or supper.  They are good tasting and good for you.  I’m so excited.

As for my day, let me say that it was less than stellar.  It was long, frustrating and discouraging.  I screwed up a budget for work, I learned discouraging news about our events in days to come and I struggled to keep positive about life in general.  My wife and I cried together in the evening as we discussed upcoming issues and decisions that must be made.  It was a painful evening.

Thank goodness for the Sardines.  They made the day tolerable.

Day 87 – Walk A Mile in My Shoes

2013.05.19This was a very good weekend for work-outs and physical activity.  Friday offered the opportunity to mow my yard and get another 3+ miles in.  Saturday was the start of my Couch to 5K program with 1.5 miles of walking and jogging.  Sunday meant extremely sore thighs and the desire to mow my yard again (I swear I can see it growing) and another 3.25 miles of push mowing.

We ate well (I mean we made good choices) and worked until I was too pooped to move.

All-in-all, it was a fantastic few days and so, as I sit on my patio, watching the sunset, I can say with pride that I worked hard and deserve these 10 minutes of rest.  But while I’m here, I think I’ll brush up on my newest language; Spanish.

That’s right, Sports Fans, I’m starting to learn Spanish.  I think by this time next year I should be fluent enough to order a glass of water and a loaf of bread.

Day 85 – Fooled Again

2013.05.17
My portrait for Friday, May 17, 2013.

I learned this morning that the performances I so enjoyed are not over.  Early in the morning, while my coffee was still hot, he called to inform me that the Jazz Choir has one final concert on Monday night and he’s making little pies for the event.

Two things: First, what the hell are little pies?  Second, ANOTHER concert?  Didn’t the last concert last for three-and-a-half hours?  Didn’t the Jazz Choir sing twice?  Aren’t all the kids in Jazz Choir also in Singers or New Dimension and didn’t they already perform?  Do we really need another night at the school?

All that said, I have a conflict on this night and cannot attend.  For this scheduling snafu, I’m truly sad.  Ben is a performer and I wish I could see him one more time.  The up-side to this is that my wife was traveling for work this past week and wasn’t able to enjoy the Thursday night concert.  Now she can go and enjoy the best of Cole Porter and Nate King Cole.  I think they only sing songs written by people who have Cole in their name.

As for my Journey?  Oh, of course.  I mowed my yard and worked in garden, giving me a walk of nearly three miles and a very good work out.  I did eat spinach, mushroom and egg for breakfast, my daughter’s macaroni and cheese with tuna and peas for lunch, and a vege pizza for supper.  Add to the fact that I worked in our garden for a while and I can honestly report that was closer to vegetables than I’ve been in a long time.

And I’m down four pounds.  Perhaps there’s something to this hard work, full sun, and a plate of spinach from time to time.  Who knew?

Day 83 – Wine Wednesday

2013.05.15Our neighbors enjoy getting together on a regular basis to laugh, talk, eat and participate in cultural events.

They also enjoy wine.

So it was a natural combination to mix the two: Thus we have Wine Wednesdays.

My wife and I have only attended one of these weekly gatherings in the past couple of years.  For one reason, our son always needed a ride to and from youth group.  We usually took advantage of the two hours in between this program to have our own date night which is always more enjoyable when we are alone-together rather than alone with a dozen of our closest neighbors.

But this week, Anita is gone and my son now has his license.  There was nothing keeping me in.  As I watched the neighbors carrying folding chairs and bottles of wine to my neighbor’s home, I decided to join the fun.  I grabbed a bottle of Diamond Collection Claret and made my way across the street.  It was a most enjoyable evening.

The bottom line?  Meet people.  Talk to people.  Stay connected to those who, if not emotionally close, are physically close.  We talked work.  We reviewed gardens.  We laughed about hobbies and we covered health concerns.  We also drank a little wine.  It was time well spent.

Now, I will have to admit that these people get together a lot.  I don’t want to say that they have a drinking problem but I will admit that my wife and I aren’t going to be able fully participate in every Mojito Monday, Tipsy Tuesday, Wine Wednesday, Thursday Thursday and Fuzzy-Navel Friday.  You should see them party on the weekend!

Day 57 – Finally, Friday!

2013.04.19It was a much quieter house tonight as my daughter was out with her friends and my youngest son was with his own set of mischief-makers.

With only three of us in the house, I determined that I would provide and snack-plate-supper.  Some good cheeses, some hard bread, fruit and prosciutto, and some good wine gave us a light and well-deserved end to our very busy week.

We planned on watching the movie, “Life of PI” but were enthralled with the events happening in Boston.  Before we knew it, the entire night was over as well as the man-hunt and we headed to bed, tired and relieved.

Day 42 – Beach Travels

2013.04.04
My first serving off oysters on the half shell.

We made our way to Galveston to enjoy some sun and surf.  Unfortunately, a cold front made its way through the night before bringing baseball sized hail and temperatures in the 50’s.

We kept our beach walking to a minimum but we thoroughly enjoyed our lunch and the site seeing that followed.

Our mid-day meal was enjoyed at a impromptu stop at Gaidos of Galveston.  This was one of the best decisions we made during our entire journey to Texas.

Our meal began with oysters on the half-shell.  And we all agreed that this was the perfect way to start our culinary experience.  Fresh from the Gulf, just outside our window, these beauties still had living barnacles clinging to the pearly casings.  When our entrees arrived, Ben enjoyed stuffed shrimp and asparagus.  Elliott and I savored the shrimp and grits with roasted, sliced tomatoes.  We finished the meal by splitting a slice of cheese cake and cups of coffee.

We received two extra treats during our visit.  Adam Vargas, Galveston historian and Gaido’s marketer, shared with us a brief but enjoyable history of the island and some of the high points to visit during our brief stay.  He was informative and friendly.  It made our time on the island even more enjoyable.

The service was extraordinary.  The meal was one we will always remember.  The atmosphere was stunning, even in the face of construction to upgrade.  This was one of the highlights of our trip to Texas.

Growing up in Indiana put limits on the amount of fresh seafood we enjoy.  We’re chicken and beef kinds of people.  A lunch at Gaido’s was more than we could have hoped for.  It was southern hospitality combined with the best food we’ve enjoyed during our entire trip to Texas and an elegant setting.

Thank you

Day 31 – Ben’s Big Day

Ben enjoys a good meal with his good friends.
Ben enjoys a good meal with his good friends.

Nothing says you are creeping toward your 50th birthday like your youngest son’s 18th birthday.

We had a wonderful evening celebrating this bright young man’s turning of age.  We age a good meal and opened presents and played dice games.

And here is the thing:  I haven’t had steak in months…maybe even a year or more.  We eat a lot of chicken but rarely have red meat.  And so, when my oldest agreed to buy the fixin’s for Ben’s birthday dinner I was all for it.  But after eating a nice big steak, my gut told me for the next few hours that I’d just made a huge mistake.

It was a fascinating revelation.  My body has changed.  My diet has changed.  And it’s all for the good.

I love my son and am happy that he enjoyed the beef.  But in the future, I’ll spend more time eating the brussel sprouts and less time slicing the steak!

Day 21 – Nothing Like a Good Bottle of Wine

2013.03.14There is nothing like a good bottle of wine.  It fits perfectly with dinner, whether roasted vegetables or a nice thick steak.

My friend, Mac will tell you that I don’t often buy a good bottle of wine.  He would be right.  Most often, I grab a bottle of Jacob’s Creek Cabernet Sauvignon for $5.99 at Kroger and drink a glass with dinner for three nights in a row.

But every once in a while, I get a nice bottle.  Every so often, I purchase a bottle of wine that is a step up from my usual lower-shelf selections.

One glass is all I need to enhance the flavors of my meal.  I don’t down the bottle.  I don’t consume the container.  I simply enjoy the good flavor of a good meal and a glass of Cab.

Tonight was one of those nights.  I ate my food, staying under my calorie goal for the day and relaxed with a beautiful red wine while Purdue got beat in the Big 10 Tourney.  It was a nice evening.  It was a perfect way to end my day.

Day 15 – Cooked Goose

2013.03.08My game plan is to visit the grocery more often and pick up fresh food with each visit.

Rather than obtaining packaged items that live for days in the chill chest, I’ll pick up a fresh head of broccoli and some ripe peaches.

Instead of pre-sliced loaves of bread filled with preservatives, I’ll select a fresh loaf warm from the oven.

I’ll pass on the pre-packaged pasta and sauce and load up on whole wheat, goodness in so many other forms.

But the Goose guarding the Kroger entrance might be a little too fresh, even for this new plan of eating right.

Day 10 – The Real Deal

2013.03.03
A perfectly roasted chicken is better than frozen pizza every single time.

I have decided that the most important thing I can do during this next year is to eat right and eat less.

I will reduce my processed food intake and increase my whole food diet.

I will eat more greens and brightly colored fruits and vegetables and reduce my artificial flavorings and colorings.

Roasting my vegetables will win out over frying.

A perfectly cooked chicken will take center stage over a grilled cheese sandwich.

My diet.  My food.  My life.  Real, Not Processed.

Day 8 – No Bread for You

2013.03.01I must admit that I’m a sucker for a good fruit cake.  I know, the brick-heavy, fruit bomb is not exactly high on the best-food list.  But there is something about all that dried fruit that gets me every time.

So I tried a recipe.

And it failed.  Disgustingly, shockingly bad.  Horrendous.

I’m guessing if I stick to a diet of water and this version of fruit cake, I’ll lose my goal weight in a matter of days.

The opinion was unanimous:  Don’t taste it, just trash it.

I’ll stick to my fruit in a more wholesome method in days to come.

I walked 20 minutes and kept my calories below my goal.  Another good day!

An Odd Job

Another beautiful sunset captured on my way to a patient's home.
Another beautiful sunset captured on my way to a patient’s home.

Four years ago this week, I started my research job.  And over the course of those four years I’ve been in hundreds of patient homes and done everything from asking simple questionnaires to performing ultrasounds of patient’s ankles.  I’ve driven tens of thousands of miles from Muncie to Terre Haute and from Lafayette to North Vernon.  And along those many miles I’ve witnessed every kind of wildlife:  deer, coyotes, turkey and squirrels.  I’ve also experienced every kind of  weather:  Everything from blizzards to blazing hot days.  I’ve driven in thunderstorms and wind storms.  I’ve watched the sun rise over the Hoosier horizon and enjoyed more than my fair share of fantastic sunsets.

In addition I’ve met every imaginable family pet and in the process I’ve been sniffed and humped by dogs as well as rubbed and bitten by cats.

 

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Another supper on the road.

Along with hours of driving, I suspect that I’ve eaten nearly 300 lbs of french fries, drank 50 gallons of diet coke and eaten the equivalent of two heifers.  All of this happened in my car as I travel from one house to the next.

But my job is not just about driving and eating and viewing wildlife.  It is about much more.  In fact, occasionally we actually conduct research.

Over the course of the past few years, I’ve conducted more than 200 sleep studies in patient homes, nursing homes and hospitals.  A primary aim of our research is to learn how many stroke patients have Obstructive Sleep Apnea.  To that end, we perform in-home sleep studies on the research subjects.

A "self-hookup" to ensure the study equipment works correctly.
A “self-hookup” to ensure the study equipment works correctly.

A typical study begins when I arrive late in the evening, lay out my equipment and hook the subject up to wires, belts, sensors and probes.  After two hours of pain-staking gluing and taping, each participant in our study looks like the backside of my 1979 home-made stereo system; wires sticking out in every direction!

Even though it is my favorite part of the job, it is also the part that I’m most anxious to end.  I’m just a little tired of sleep studies (no pun intended).  I’m not tired of hooking up the equipment, visiting the patients in their homes, or even the meals on the road.  For me, the hardest part of the job is the odd hours I have to keep in order to complete the studies.

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Winter weather makes the travel even more of an adventure.

For instance, I have two sleep studies scheduled this week.  The first is tonight and the second is on Thursday.  Tonight’s study will begin at 7:30 pm.  I’ll be done and out the patient’s door around 9:30.  Tack on another 1/2 hour for driving and I’m done with my work day at 10:00 pm.  But I’ll be back at the patient’s home tomorrow morning at 7:30 to pick up the equipment, upload the study to the scoring center and then cleaning the equipment to prepare for Thursday night.

And I do that twice this week.

I've met my fair share of family pets in my journeys.
I’ve met my fair share of family pets in my journeys.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love my job.  I enjoy the freedom of getting out of the office from time to time.  On warm spring days I crank up the jams on my car stereo and cruise with the windows down as I drive the highways and byways of this beautiful state.  I even enjoy a good cheeseburger from time to time.  But if I’m honest, I’m looking forward to the day when the end of my shift on Tuesday isn’t so close to the start of my shift on Wednesday.

I suppose it will all end soon enough.  By my calculations I have only 11 more months and another 60 studies until I’m done.  That’s nothing.  Right?

The Perfect Roasted Chicken

A perfectly roasted chicken is an essential first step in learning the art of cooking.
Yesterday’s Bird:  A perfectly roasted chicken is an essential first step in learning the art of cooking.

Julia Child begins the sixth chapter of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” with these words: “Some of the most glorious dishes of the French cuisine have been created  for chicken, and almost all the fundamentals of French cookery and sauce making are to be found somewhere in the chicken realm.

In one episode of her famous cooking show, Child states, The real test of a good chef is a perfectly roasted chicken.

Last year I started learning how to cook.  I used it as a means of feeding my family good food but I also used it as an outlet for my creativity.  Not one to limit my options, I moved beyond my award winning Macaroni and Cheese from a box.

I wanted to learn how to cook real food;  food that people would ask for, come to the dinner table to enjoy.   The first step in my culinary adventure  was to purchase Child’s cookbook; $24 on Amazon.  I read it from cover to cover, marking the dishes I thought I could handle, making notes of the equipment I had and needed.  The next step was to start practicing different recipes.  I jumped in with both feet and tried mushroom soup, asparagus covered in Hollandaizes, potato  and leek soup, roasted Brussels sprouts, and Beef Bourguignon.

Golden-brown and buttery soft.  Perfect.
Golden-brown and buttery soft. Perfect.

My family loved the dinners but I knew I needed to center in on one dish and make it right, rather than simply try a variety of recipes that were hit and miss.  And so after careful consideration, I started with the basic and most beloved, Roasted Chicken.

A few dozen chickens later, and I think I’ve finally perfected this meal.  I’ve tried roasting the chicken whole, quartered and butterflied.  I’ve served it sliced into thin strips, in soups and with noodles and over roasted potatoes.  But, to quote Mrs. Child, “A chicken should taste like chicken and be so good in itself that it is an absolute delight to eat as a perfectly plain, buttery roast...”  I’m proud to say that the last three birds have lived up to this standard.  I now know that I can prepare the chicken in minutes, cook it and serve it within an hour, without any question of the final outcome.  I mastered this one.

Now on to sauces!

A Life of Cheese – Aged Gouda

The nutty, salty flavor of this fantastic cheeses makes it one of my favorites.
The nutty, salty flavor of this fantastic cheeses makes it one of my favorites.

There are few cheeses I enjoy more than Aged Gouda.  The flavors of this wonderful product combine to bring both sweet and salt to the palate.  While traditional Gouda is a bland cheese and Smoked Gouda is even worse, Aged Gouda (the older the better) is a delight.

Because of the popularity of Parmigiano-Reggiano, this cheese came into fashion in the mid-1900’s.  Typically aged two-to-three years, the body of this cheese, no matter the brand, takes on a caramel/butterscotch color and forms little salt crystals that add to its beauty.  It is a hard cheese that is perfect for eating at room temperature and excellent with olives and a bottle of red wine.  It can also be shredded, like Parmesan.

Several years ago, I was able to get a block of five-year-old Gouda.  I have never had anything to compare.  The other day we enjoyed some 1000 day-old Gouda with some baguette and a glass of Cabernet.  It was the perfect way to end a day and a great way to start the year of tasting Cheeses.

Seat Yourself

A Perfect Place for a Perfect Pint.

After putting in a hard eight-hour day, there is nothing I enjoy more than trying to kill two hours before a 7:00 p.m. meeting.

But earlier this week, I discovered that there is NO better place to kill those previously painful minutes than at the Chatham Tap in Fishers, Indiana.

So there I was, sitting in a quiet corner of the dining area, a Christmas tree aglow, oldies Christmas music playing at the perfect volume, a Black and Tan in one hand and a fork full of the best Ribeye Steak Salad in the other.  To top it all off, the All Blacks Rugby Team was killing Wales.

After dinner, I ordered a coffee and wrote a little and watched the two teams scrum until my meeting was about to start.  As I packed up my things, I left a big tip and assured myself that I would see this place again very soon.

Julia’s Guidance

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I don’t know if you’ve ever tried cooking a real meal but if you want to take a chance, don’t do it alone.  Tonight was another great success and Julia Child led me all the way.

Tonight we enjoyed a mushroom soup and cheese bread followed by the main course of Roast Pork, New Potatoes and Pearl Onions with French Bread and Roasted Brussel Sprouts.  Our dessert was a fantastic Apple Tart with glazed Apricot preserves and cream.

Each bite was a huge hit and we left the table full and fully satisfied.

 

Eat Your Potage

A potato can be so much more, with a little love and a lot of time.

I’ve encouraged you to try new things from time to time.  Take up a hobby, read a book, try a new adventure:  It challenges your senses and gives you confidence.  It breaks the routine and opens your mind to new ideas.

In that spirit, I cooked a potato.

But, before you laugh, I’ll have you know that I also cooked pearl onions and baby bell mushrooms and burgundy wine and leaks and carrots and three pounds of stewing beef.  Over the course of seven hours of cooking, I whisked, stirred, chopped, and tasted.  I even pealed oranges with a potato pealer or all things.

It was my daughter’s 20th birthday and we celebrated with a most successful candlelit meal.  We aren’t usually high-class folks; pizza and coke will serve our needs most of the time.  But last night we pulled out all the stops and ate like the French:  No Italian Pizza for us!  Each course of the dinner was made from Julia Child and her wonderful book, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”  Julia didn’t let us down.

For the Appetizer we had Potage Parmentier with Asiago Cheese Bread.  This beautiful, creamy potato and leak soup was topped with freshly chopped parsley and provided the perfect beginning to the meal.  We enjoyed small bowls of the soup along with a crisp glass of Chardonnay.  After the slurping stopped, our appetites were primed and ready.

The Salad was a tossed green salad with Julia’s perfect Red Wine Vinaigrette.  We enjoyed various cheeses to compliment the salad, including Goat Cheese, Parmesan and Gouda along with a fresh loaf of crackling French Bread.

The Main Course was a huge success:  Beef Bourguignon, Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce served with a nice Burgundy wine.  This was the richest, most wonderful food I’ve ever tasted.  The meat was tender and full of flavor.  The Hollandaise sauce was buttery, lemony and smooth.  The asparagus was tender and crisp.  The house is still filled with the aroma of the beef and my mouth waters even as I describe the plate.

We ended the evening with the Candy-Glazed Oranges, a Port wine and coffee.

Emily was most pleased with her birthday dinner.

If you ever tire of the routine you’ve created, the rut you are in, the daily grind that awaits you, I implore you to try something new:  Grab a cook book and spend some time in front of the stove.  But be warned, you’d better have Julia at your elbow helping you along the way because it is a challenge not intended for the faint of heart…but worth every minute and every amazing bite.