“There Are More Important Concerns.”

“Travel makes one modest – you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world” – Gustave Flaubert

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Well, it was bound to happen. The first text message a week ago was just a little crack in the wall, as some eager beaver just had to tell D of exciting news from the office… and now today D has had to take a teleconference so that he can give his two cents on some whatever vendor tool for blah, blah, blah. The seal is broken, and the wall is crumbling. T is tallying the number of times D’s work mates have no boundaries and interrupt his well-earned and desperately needed vacation. She imagines kicking them smartly in the shins for each infraction.

(D worries when she gets on this topic, because he knows T, despite appearances to the contrary, is still somewhat feral and might actually tell them she’s imagined kicking them… while shifting her weight to one foot… But, we digress.)

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Now that the vultures are circling and we can see the end of our trip just a few days down the pike, T has put on her junior sociologist’s hat and continued to process some of the things we’ve observed throughout our travels in this intriguing country (and from living in Scotland).

Twenty days in a country doesn’t exactly give scope for a deep dive into its society, but because we’ve lived abroad before, it’s easier to have a basis for comparison. Now, we’re fond of our home state and the benefits it has given us – and we love air conditioning, garbage disposals, public libraries and window screens — all things Europe commonly does not have. — BUT sometimes, American attitudes and ways of looking at things leave something to be desired.

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The interesting differences in attitude we’ve observed between countries is this idea of being The Best. The Netherlands is an amazing, brilliant country… and they don’t go on about it. In Scandinavia, there are national social mores about humility and modesty. The “best” is something perhaps children strive for; while adults, in contrast, just seem content to get on with things. Maybe it’s just that lately the national conversation has become steeped in empty superlatives – “greatest” “most” “best” – maybe it just seems like this blabbing about how awesome we are is new, but it’s not, really. To a certain extent, there’s always been an attitude of competitive striving – that “pursuit of happiness” which came from an adolescent nation determined to prove to a parental kingdom that it wasn’t just some rebellious kid going off on their own. We never intended to come crawling back to Mama England, and that bullheaded stubbornness has informed a lot of the flavor of our country. Ironically, those with the most privilege in this nation still struggle to recognize it because there’s a sense of deserving more, which causes so many a deep unhappiness — even as indigenous, Black, and people of color still haven’t yet achieved equality — but that’s clearly a topic for another blog post.

Netherlands 2018 163“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things — air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky — all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese

In contrast, in the Netherlands, there’s less an attitude of competition here than there is of normalcy. There is a phrase here about “just do the normal,” thus the word that crops up a lot in conversation is “typical Dutch x,” or “typical Dutch Y.” People believe that they are basically all about the same, and that “normal” is basically weird enough, and there’s no need to be seriously eccentric or try to stand out from the crowd… which flows right into another Netherlands phrase we’ve heard often on this trip, when the conversation has turned to deeper matters in terms of industry, religion, and politics: “There are more important concerns.”

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There are bigger stories; more important fish to fry. DB’s mother said it frequently, when speaking of religions reacting to gendering (churches are sluggish about inclusivity), or issues surrounding healthcare (she’s a physician). SC’s neighbor said it in passing when speaking of how the children in her daughter’s elementary school interacted. In almost every situation where our societal inclination would be to harp on a point or insist on clarification, explanation, or agreement, the reaction we’ve observed is for people to sit back and remark that there are more important things to worry about. Normal, after all, is weird enough.

This idea is kind of fascinating.

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We thought we understood about people kind of having a live-and-let-live attitude from living in the UK, but honestly, Scots are rather opinionated and are quite free with their opinions. (Just get into a cab once and have the driver tell you that you’re wasting his time and could have walked where you needed to go. THAT’s always fun when you’re lost.) We’re told that the Dutch are, too, but rather than air that opinion in an insistent way, apparently once they get to know you, they’ll simply put it out there and go on. If there’s disagreement, the opposing opinion is just put out there, and people go on. It’s not as if people don’t argue – but there has just seemed to be less of a competition for who has the last word. It’s interesting.

Maybe it’s that we’re still guests in all of the places we’ve been, and they’re just listening to us go on. Maybe they’re all secretly laughing at us. Who knows? Maybe there really are more important concerns, and they’re away getting on with them. And, so we will, too.

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou

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A Walk Through the Clouds (of Mosquitoes)

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When we arrived in the Netherlands, it was vilely, disgustingly hot — far hotter here than it was at home, much to our horror, with ninety percent humidity. Ughhhhhhhhhh. We hadn’t packed any shorts and had instead come prepared for the ubiquitous liquid sunshine of Holland – with flannel and wool, long sleeves and trousers. Hats. Umbrellas. We were, after all, in the land of endless rain. Netherlands 2018 887 Holland, tricky beast that it is, completely changed the game on us, and the resulting heat wave awakened The Swarm. We are as covered with mosquito bites as if we’d gone to summer camp, and it’s kind of ridiculous. There’s not much air conditioning outside of the bigger cities, and there’s not much call for it (most people we spoke with would prefer something useful like, oh, disposals. Don’t get expatriates talking about what they miss from the U.S. – somehow a garbage disposal is always at the top of the list. Anyway). Worse, because many of the buildings are older, the windows are unusual sizes and it’s hard – and expensive – to have them fitted for screens.

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So, no AC, and no screens, and a heat wave. If we lived here, we’d get some duct tape and a roll of mosquito netting or something! Fortunately, our rented apartment came with a big fan and a portable AC, and we did the best we could to keep the air moving. We had a few bites in Delft, but the further out into the woods and countryside we got, the worse it got. T walked, um, briskly through the woods, in hopes of keeping them off, but D loves his photography, and standing stock still to get just the perfect shot drew them to him, poor thing. He had eighteen bites in one afternoon, and then, to save his sanity, stopped counting. Still – he believes it was really worth it for some of the gorgeous pictures he got. Mostly. Maybe.


After we spent time with DB’s parents, they got a feel for who we were – or, really, who D is – and so DB’s Dad took us on a spur-of-the-moment walk to a place called Waterloopbos Marknesse in Flevoland.

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D often enjoys taking visitors to the SF Bay Area to Sausalito, to see the Army Corps of Engineers hydraulic model of the SF Bay. This model was used to predict what would happen to the Bay lands if some bright soul did X to this channel or Y to this River, and in the early 1950’s, it actually saved people a lot of money and loss of income (and possibly life) before they had computers do hydrology studies of this kind. Well, in the Netherlands, a place with a LOT of water and a lot of folks relying on engineers to keep them on dry land, Dutch water engineers were asked to do these same types of studies, not just for their own country, but for other nations. (You’ll have to click through to our Flickr page to see more.) Netherlands 2018 1132 Instead of enclosing their tidal model in a building, however, in the 1950’s Dutch engineers simply took almost three hundred acres (120 hectares) of polder forest – land reclaimed from the sea, but, in this case, too wet to use for agriculture – and built a wave machine and various locks to raise and lower the level of the water… to create artificial harbors. According to a rough translation of one of the signs: “…the ports of Vlissingen, Ijmuiden, Scheveningen (in the Netherlands), and abroad those of Lagos (Nigeria), Beirut (then Syria) and Marsa-el-Bregha (Libya) were recreated in the polder. Over the years, scale models have been built on 36 construction sites in the forest. In total, some 200 assignments from the Netherlands and abroad have been carried out.”

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It’s amazing, and a ‘rijksmonument’ – a national monument – now. The whole two-and-a-half mile area where the models are is half-swallowed by the forest. It really looks like ruins – and it is dead quiet in there, though that may have been because there were no guides out on the late Sunday we were there, so there were fewer families out and about. We walked the (3.42 km) two mile loop, examining the signs (which are in Dutch, of course) which told us which harbor was being recreated to study what the wave machine or locks were meant to do with the water. It was kind of mind-blowing that all of this was put together before computers… and then, in 1970, as the digital age overcame it, was simply abandoned, as faster ways to study the world came along. The multiple, detailed models prove why the Netherlands mastered living in a watery land.

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We were a little disappointed that most of the locks were padlocked so that we couldn’t turn on the wave machine or raise/lower the water levels, but we did manage to clamber around and affect a few things. Mostly we were glad we didn’t fall in (it’s not too terribly deep, maybe, but some of it is rather still, and packed with …squiggling things), as it really was a “spur of the moment” two mile hike we took… on the way to the train station. After that, we had to hurry through heavy traffic and change trains three times to get back to Delft before it got too dark. Still – mosquito bites and all – it was worth it.

Hunebedden & Goat Horns

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It’s funny how easy it is to slip into being “one of the kids” in a big family. After church and lunch with DB’s folks, we all crammed into her Dad’s big van and went on the traditional after-church hike. They drove us out to Megalithic era burial mounds called ‘dolmens,’ or, in Dutch, hunebedden (they’re literally translated as “giant beds,” as the old Dutch word for ‘giant’ is ‘huyne’). These artifacts at Hunebedcentrum are a lot like a shorter Stonehenge, and were dug up/placed between 3400-2850 BC, making them older than the pyramids in Egypt. Probably because no one went haring off to The Netherlands to dig up antiquities (and basically enslave the people), they’ve been largely left alone (there are something like fifty-four of them in the whole country), except by the Germans during WWII – they wanted an airfield, so they dug them up and moved them, displacing the sand and artifacts inside of them…

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Aaaand, shortly afterward, the Dutch moved them back.

Anyway. The sign said that archaeologists call the people who built them the Funnel Beaker culture, because they left funnel-shaped beakers and pitchers in the grave below, but obviously you don’t get to see all of that.

It was an interesting trek to the dolmen – through a rather dry type of woods and kind of dune-land outside of a farmland (there were roaming bands of sheep, dogs, and an actual shepherd). Netherlands 2018 980 We noticed that the ground underfoot was wet, because it had rained, but it wasn’t horribly sticky, because it was…sandy. And yet again we were reminded that The Netherlands has an awful lot of low-lying land that is near or below sea level. There was a lot of interesting wildlife to see on the trail – aside from the 900 varieties of birds and the gigantinormous mosquitoes and dragonflies, there were a lot of beetles that at first appeared black, but turned out to be a sort of iridescent blue. Netherlands 2018 975 There were numerous tangles of blackberry brambles along the trail, bushes full of what our hosts called “red berries” (red currants) and honeysuckle vines. The trees and bushes were totally different from the types of vegetation we’d gotten used to just a couple of hours away in Delft. And yes, this concludes the Pathfinder/Scout badge portion of this trip… if you end up hiking in another country, you’ll get excited about the flowers/trees/bugs too. (Have we mentioned that this country has storks? Giant, long-legged storks in huge nests up on poles in the middle of the towns… and really long-eared bunnies…? Okay, okay, fine. Enough with the wildlife.)


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It’s hard to know what to say about Giethoorn. It was settled by a bunch of peat farmers and fisherman. A 10th century flood revealed a great many goat horns (gietehorens) in the area, thus its goat-y name. It’s basically an old settlement in the middle of peat islands, and the only solid land is where the houses are… the rest is all floating reeds, bridges (about 170 of them in a tiny village with less than three thousand people) and …water. So much water.

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It’s beautiful and quaint, and still. That peat is protected land now and the reeds used to thatch the roofs is also grown in the area, and there’s a certain kind of boat called a Giethoorn punter that is made specifically for that area (punters are poled through the canals by a person standing up and in the back, someone has another pole going in circles as the rudder. Local kids are able to do the whole thing BY THEMSELVES; you can tell the tourists because it takes three people to make the boat move). It’s a cozy and gorgeous place… if you get there early enough. If you don’t, you’re at the mercy of tour boats with loudspeakers, hordes of visiting families who are quite sure they can drive an electric boat (only residents are allowed access to the speed provided by gas engines), badly paddled canoes, hordes of cyclists, people shoving cameras into every open doorway, and residents just trying to get on with their daily lives. Oh, and also, a lot of ducks.

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It’s a tiny place, but also huge, in a way. There are something like ninety kilometers – or about fifty-five miles – worth of roads in this small village, and they’re all water roads… so there’s plenty of place to take a boat… and run it into the shore, or up onto the reeds, or tip it over… yeah, you get the idea. It must be such a lovely place to live outside of tourist season… but much of time time, “tourist season” only stops for rain and snow. Fortunately, it rains a lot… we couldn’t imagine living with that level of scrutiny. It was like Disneyland, only the homes of the people were what everyone gawked at constantly. We were lucky, because DB has both worked for a boat tour company and her brother attended primary school in the village, so they know tons of people there, and could skillfully slide us through behind the scenes. Netherlands 2018 1022 We visited a mineral museum called De Oude Aarth (The Old Earth) and were surprised to find they had small crocodiles (!) and a ton of really great rocks – huge pieces of amethyst and petrified wood sourced from all over the world. There was a museum shop which had many pieces used as furniture – how’d you like a twenty-three thousand Euro table made of a gorgeous slab of petrified wood? Or an end table made up entirely of amethyst? (Someone wanted it; it was marked as sold.) For all the misery of having so many tourists dropping by, clogging up the waterway every weekend, at least businesses seem to be doing well!

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But the most fun thing for us was traveling back to DB’s house, up the quiet canal and pulling up to the back of her house again. Her little brother explained to us that kids in the Netherlands get boat licenses at the age of 12, and are expected to not exceed certain speeds until they’re eighteen and have a full license to move through the waterways. The level of freedom and responsibility is really different – we observed families with a high level of communication between old and young and a lot of respect and compromise on both sides. It was really interesting to compare and contrast it to American families.

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We have a lot of preconceptions about how things are “supposed” to go, how people are “supposed” to act. As Americans, it’s important to remember that we come from a judgmental Puritan past, and that it is where we get a lot of the ideas about society. We have a lot of “shoulds” we tend to put on other people, and it’s not good. This trip has been a reminder about not judging other culture and people, and instead observing and keeping our mouths closed. The quality of life in Europe is one of the most highly regarded in the world… and the people we’ve seen seem happy and content, even though they’re not the richest or the most successful in some ways. We’ve closely observed two host families and done a lot of thinking… and there’s something to be said sometimes for doing things NOT the American way. It’s something to think about.

-D & T

Living

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“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Thoreau

Thoreau was, of course, a Mama’s boy who “went to the woods” about as long as Christopher Robin did, with plenty of time to get back for tea, and sleeping each night beneath his parents’ roof. Still, it’s not his fault that a modern misunderstanding of 19th century English gentlemen and the weight of literary tradition made him out to be some über-naturalist; he went out into the wilds about as long as most of us would care to. There’s STUFF in the woods. Mainly stuff that bites; we saw a tick at the edge of the grass, and Himself had a gumball-sized knot on his side from what we think might have been a horsefly-ish kind of thing? Our personal collection of welts and weals from midges and mosquitoes weigh lightly against the liquid trill of starlings and thrushes, the soughing of the wind in the leaves, and the susurrus of water over rocks and reeds. Our weekend was filled to the brim with people – enough so that T’s introvert soul shuddered – but the myriad long walks were really restorative. (Click through this picture; it’s a video, but WordPress doesn’t play those in-browser anymore, so…)

Gemert – pronounce the ‘g’ as ‘h,’ s’il vous plait – is in an area of lovely, big trees, and about an hundred shades of green. The Netherlands don’t have a lot of hills, as it’s a lot of land reclaimed from the sea, but the forests are quite something, even though they’re mostly planted by hand, though the hundreds of years We really liked the Southeast of Holland, and since the rain and cooler weather returned, we liked it even better. Eindhoven, a tech-rich city which got a lot of German attention during the war, is fairly utilitarian (READ: ugly), but tidy brick villas of Gemert make for the quintessential storybook European village look. Lots to photograph, but the most fun was to step off of a bus and walk around a corner to see a friend opening her front door and waving wildly. We spent a lovely day with S. and her boys and will return Wednesday to have dinner with them (and to allow Mr. S to make another pitch to D about moving to Europe and working at his company ☺).

One of the other drawbacks of days with people is that we’ve fallen behind in our storytelling and in uploading photographs, but we’re taking today to just catch up and rest up. More to come!

A little National Poetry Month

You, neighbor god, if sometimes in the night

You, neighbor god, if sometimes in the night
I rouse you with loud knocking, I do so
only because I seldom hear you breathe
and know: you are alone.
And should you need a drink, no one is there
to reach it to you, groping in the dark.
Always I hearken. Give but a small sign.
I am quite near.

Between us there is but a narrow wall,
and by sheer chance; for it would take
merely a call from your lips or from mine
to break it down,
and that without a sound.

The wall is builded of your images.

They stand before you hiding you like names.
And when the light within me blazes high
that in my inmost soul I know you by,
the radiance is squandered on their frames.

And then my senses, which too soon grow lame,
exiled from you, must go their homeless ways.

— Rainer Maria Rilke, Poems from the Book of Hours

Jazz Hands, Buttons & Irony

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A chilly, damp, late winter morning, and already the doves are creating their mindless racket atop the neighbor’s house. The fake owls do absolutely nothing to convince the doves of their ferocity, so they’re nesting next to it. Doves in chorus sound a great deal like chickens volubly remarking upon the laying of an egg, so you know there’s all sorts of raucous nonsense going on. Whoever likened the cooing of doves to something pure and mild clearly never lived anywhere near them. Typical.

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Inasmuch as the time change has thrown us completely – when will someone take seriously the idea to do away with such indignities!! – it is, at least, a sign that this winter of diseases is crawling to a close. If you’ve been one of those who have ridden the coughing carousel, unable to dismount, you have our empathy. Fortunately, after the January/February illness phase, we’ve been healthier, if exhausted. Not so much from dreich, gray skies and the eternal fogbank in which our house sits, but because of … enforced levity. Who knew smiling could be so tiresome? Oh, yes – our comedy show is coming up this weekend, and in this household, we are heartily sick of a.) lines concluding with “fa-la-la-la,” b.) Gilbert and Sullivan, c.) songs ending with “jazz hands” d.) songs containing tubas, e.) kazoos. And did we mention fa-la-las?!

On one hand, we frequently remind ourselves that our director’s insistence that we MEMORIZE such gems is staving off the encroachments of Alzheimer’s. On the other hand, should one keep singing songs with fa-la-las, dementia is practically assured…

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All snark aside, T has had her six month meeting with her doctor regarding her autoimmune, and after numerous blood tests and kidney tests, appears to be as well as medical science can make her just now. Though the grinding grey exhaustion continues, and the medication only ameliorates some of the symptoms, because it is so toxic, we’ve decided to keep it as minimal of a dose as possible. This means that the excessive collagen buildups, which produce thick harpy fingernail/claws continues – but the autoimmune continues to attack the nailbeds, soooo… the nails fall off. Neat, huh? The breakdown of skin also affects hair follicles, so while hair grows quickly, it also fills the brush and dusts the shoulders in a continual silent fall.

…one never imagines oneself as particularly vain until one is female and facing massive hair loss. And then, one discovers, oh, suddenly, painfully, that one is VERY VAIN INDEED.

Life is just full of opportunities to learn one’s limits, is it not? Wouldn’t it have been fun to learn about this limit, oh, never?! But, alas.

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One of T’s more random hobbies has been to take interesting old buttons and, adding them to various clips or jump beads or other findings, make some sort of hair jewelry or brooch or whatnot. It’s something mentally freeing to do whilst listening to podcasts, and has been a convenient means of creating small, handmade gifts for small people… and herself. Knowing T’s predilection for hair jewelry, for her birthday this year, her parents presented her with, among other things, a lovely set of bejeweled combs from Macy’s… the day after she’d hacked five inches from her hair and given up on doing more than wearing a headband.

O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” came to mind, both awful and amusing at the same time. T. quietly rewrapped the combs and returned them, not having the heart to mention it to her parents.

Hair comes, and hair goes, and seasons, ever-changing. Fa-la-la-la.

A Mostly Pictorial Panko Lemon Garlic Tofu Recipe

Okay, so some people just HATE tofu. T, who grew up with it from childhood, LOATHED it until at some point in her twenties when… she got over it. It’s … just like any other ingredient, in that it’s a Thing to which you add Other Things and then it has flavor. Of course, meat allegedly has its own flavors even without additions, but that’s the blood, and we’re ignoring that. Meat (sans sangre) is flavorless, just as tofu is flavorless. As an ingredient, tofu is fine, and, even better, is lacking weird stringy bits and wobbly things you don’t want to identify. It’s a perfectly reasonable food, you just have to season it.

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This recipe is adapted from Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken‘s.

We realized that, like most people, we’d fallen into a meal rut, with winter casseroles and heavy, savory things like beans. Our attempt at something piquant and unique was this dish, which is both crunchy and tangy. It turned out surprisingly well, it was (mostly) easy and quick to prepare, and a good use of odds and ends for side dishes and whatnot. And, if you love someone vegan or vegetarian? It’s well worth preparing during this ridiculous Hallmark holiday… celebrating the tang of lemon as an antidote to the saccharine of the holiday. *cough* Or something.

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The marinade calls for two lemons, zest and juice; three cloves of garlic, agave, water, salt, and pepper. T left out the agave, and added a tablespoon of tapenade leftover from something, far more garlic than called for, and then she microwaved the lemons, which made them delightfully juicy. (And messy.) (She also did a frankly terrible job of zesting the lemons, because though frozen lemons preserve their great skin, after defrosting, the lemons are too juicy to work with, and the skin on Meyers especially is too thin and delicate, so, a word to the wise: zest the frozen lemons before defrosting, or better yet, before you freeze them…) It’s said that the tofu can marinate for up to three days in this blend, but we find that if we remove the water its packed in, tofu doesn’t need more than a half hour to marinate. We laid out our tofu chunks on a cookie sheet, stacked the sheets, and weighed them down with a cast-iron skillet. After an hour, we poured off all the water, unstacked the pans, and poured on our marinade. After about twenty minutes, we put the tofu in a series of zip-top bags, all of which proceeded to leak. (ANNOYING.)

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We’d forgotten how much of a chore the multi-step dredging food in flour and panko can be… since we’d not made anything which required these steps in about a year and a half, the last time we made faux crab cakes (squeeze-dried shredded zucchini, panko, Old Bay – tasty). Fortunately, after all the plate-of-flour-and-seasonings, plate-of-wet-binding, messy-sticky-hands thing, we discovered that this tofu dish works nicely baked – and there’s less a chance that your chef will get bored and forget she has something on the stove. Ahem.

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It’s easy to leave dish as vegan, as is, or, if you’re feeling particularly beleaguered that you’re ACTUALLY EATING TOFU and it’s NOT EVEN IN AN ASIAN DISH, you can use an egg whipped with water to make the recipe safely animal-product-y. The flour dredging is a place to layer in the flavors, to give your tofu the taste you prefer. We entirely forgot the nutritional yeast in the breading, but added pretty much everything else, including random herbs not called for, old packets of Parmesan from pizzerias, a sprinkle of Old Bay, even more garlic (because since when is three cloves enough????), and ground cayenne (because: we add it to EVERYTHING). Each time we ran short of the dredging blend, we remade it differently, and T didn’t follow any measurements at all. (It’s a wonder anything she makes ever turns out.) We did a test run of this dish after making something else, just in case, but it’s good enough to serve as a main dish with a couple of sides. The lemon shines through, and the exterior crunch is a nice contrast to the soft tofu insides. (It’s not as soft as it would have been, as firm tofu gets even MORE firm when you’ve a.) frozen it and b.) pressed out all of the water. If you dislike tofu for texture reasons, you might try that.) The recipe inventor finishes this with parsley and sliced lemons, but tonight, we’re going to make a buttery lemon sauce, which will really bring out that lovely tang. Pair this with steamed veg like green beans or asparagus, a lemon-infused rice, or lemon pasta, or savory roasted sprouts.

This was a surprisingly delicious meal, and perfect for the suddenly chilly evening. Here’s to home cooking, and the attractive nuisance that is a bored person in a kitchen.

Signs

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Years ago, when we lived in Santa Rosa, late January-February was when we cut back the rosemary to stumps, in preparation for it to begin to grow again in April and May. We usually cut the rose back then, too. It’s funny how we try and use one calendar anchor to apply to everywhere. Saturday was a balmy 70°F/21°C, while Sunday was a nippy 55°F/12°C. It’s hard to know when to prune anything anymore. With the weather all over the place, our internal calendars are a total mess.

Still, there are signs of the season – from the itching of our ears to the earlier rising of the sun. We watch the trees change like stop-motion photographs, each morning as we step out for our brief, brisk walk through the waking neighborhood. As the sun is normally barely an idea yet during our walks, we don’t often see the shift in full color, but we got a late start for our weekend walk, and enjoyed seeing the nests, buds, and blooms in full color.

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It’s been an all over the place sort of weekend. Inasmuch as the weather appears unsure what time of year this is, we’re fairly confident that it’s Spring from the amount of dust that’s drifted in, and the way our houseplants have overgrown their pots. One of the nicer things about our little house is its big, deep tub in the master bath, and the the deep garden windows in the kitchen. Both of these things, however, are absolutely an annoyance to clean. The window, especially, into which we put new screens just last summer, is a single pane, and the window is made of unfinished marble. It tends to let in dust, immigrating spiders, and it collects water stains like a pro. After removing all the plant clutter, we washed all of the windows and tried to put a shine on the marble. T. is grateful to D for taking on the body origami which made this tidying up possible.

There are always some chores which seem to be reserved for “spring” cleaning. (Question: why do there seems to be no specified clean-outs for the other seasons? Perhaps in spring, there is the assumption that one has to clean out all the things it wasn’t possible to clean out or dispose of during winter – and so come Spring, detritus was burned, graves were dug, linens washed and houses were turned out, and those weren’t such issues during summer or autumn, maybe? Possibly? Sounds legit, no?) While we normally are annoyed with windows which are speckled and spotty when the sun shines, the heavy fog hasn’t allowed for much to look at before this past week, so we’ve let that chore slide. We caught up this weekend. Additionally, though we generally sharpen knives as needed, we discovered that in the last while, they all seem to have gone dull, so that was another chore for the morning. As always, when one begins thinking of specific things one ought to do, the list multiplies…! The bird bath! The hummingbird feeder! And on and on and on…

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Few people have a specific time of year to re-pot plants, but with the way our Saintpaulia (the scientific name of what some people call “African” violets, though they’re more specifically Tanzanian violets, as they don’t grow all over Africa, but people are generally lazy or else don’t know Africa isn’t one country) has responded to being in the little garden window, it’s already been necessary once in the seven months since we’ve moved closer to the Bay. T is always gratified with how well her little violets grow, because she once thought they were the most finicky, easy to kill plant she’d ever had — and as they succumbed, D kept getting them for her (!!!). She realized why about two years ago during a rare trip to D’s parent’s house in Southern Cal, watching D’s mother prune her two dozen or so Saintpaulia plants. Now, we say “prune” but what we mean is “take a chef’s knife and violently cleave a plant in half while making desultory small talk.”

Chit-chat-chit-chat-chit-cha–SLAM!

It was some next-level, mafiosi-style intimidation, if that’s what his mother intended. As the cleaver came down T took a GIANT step back and asked weakly, “Um, what are you doing?” (“Um,” because, even after twenty-plus years of marriage, neither T nor D know have found comfortable names to call their inlaws. In the rare conversation, “Um” so far has worked.) “Oh, this is how you cut them back,” D’s mother said blithely. “You can start a whole new plant from a single leaf, just like this!”

Well, okay, then!

At our house, T prefers to hand D a TINY knife, because she’s still sure she’s going to kill the plants every time she has to divide them, but so far, so good… and so far, the mafiosi hasn’t dropped by, so that’s a plus as well.

Sing Out Niles 1

Sunday afternoon, we attended a community sing, sponsored by our chamber group, which was dedicated to love songs. It occurred to us that we hadn’t really done anything like this since we’d returned from Glasgow, where groups getting together for a “sing-song and a cuppa” is much more common. While there was no tea this time, there were quite a number of people out and about, in the historical tiny town-within-a-town of Niles. As this had been advertised throughout the community, we expected a lot of at least choir folk, but were amused to see one of D’s bosses there, as well.

The program was held in the historic Niles church, historic, because there has apparently been an operating church in that location since 1889, before Niles was incorporated as part of Fremont in 1956. For all its historical nature, the church is quite modern inside, a small, tidy space with soaring ceilings, which lent itself well to the music of the grand piano mid-stage.

The program was a combination of goofy and endearing, as the songs ranged from all the verses of “You Are My Sunshine” (none of which, regrettably, was the verse we learned at summer camp about the pig) to Neil Diamond’s “I’m A Believer” (or, as most people said, “No, that’s a Monkees song!” Yeah, yeah, but Neil wrote it), then to a melancholy Queen song which few people knew (and which no one could sing, because, it was pitched for tenors who never pitch things for the average person). In the single hour we we sang rounds, then two, and four-part rounds; ooold oldies from generations back (“Kisses Sweeter Than Wine) and even older ooold “olde” English folk songs (“I Gave My Love A Cherry”). We then ended with a newly composed, four part song from the Justice Choir Songbook called We Choose Love, written by a Colorado composer and musician who was inspired last summer by peaceful civic protests in her area. As the chamber will be performing in a May concert titled “And Justice for All,” we fully expect that song will be seen again.


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After such a fun community-oriented afternoon, the wind came up and blew the temperature into the low forties, and we gladly bundled into a hot bath and into bed. We hope all of your planning this weekend – and your cleaning and organizing – lead to a fruitful and well-prepared you this week – or at least some semblance thereof of an organized, better you. Ciao!