Today is my birthday.

I started celebrating yesterday and intend to continue through tomorrow. :-D

Yesterday, Carolyn and I had Spa Day (she had a facial while I had a 30 minute massage followed by a manicure and we finished with pedicures together), then mid-afternoon wine and cheese. We came home, dolled up and went out for dinner to Piedmont, a wonderful farm-to-table restaurant in Durham.

We started with d’Arenberg Winery “The Hermit Crab” 2014 Viognier/Marsanne from MacLauren Vale for Chuck, Reynolds Family Farm 2012 Chardonnay from Napa Valley for me and a Coon Rock Farm Spritzer for Carolyn made with grapefruit mint (I never knew there was such a thing), vodka, lemon, grapefruit and soda. It was delicious and refreshing.

Appetizers were Coon Rock Farm’s mixed greens salad, wild green onions, Loaf Bakery rye bread, chioggia beets and a sprinkle of Anson Mills’ benne seeds, a kind of hummus made of caramelized summer squash, chickpeas and smoked paprika with lavash crackers, and Coon Rock Farm’s heirloom tomatoes with basil sorbet, olive oil, pickled and fried okra and chia seed crackers.

The tomatoes were perfectly ripe and the basil sorbet was amazing. Concentrated basil like I have never encountered before. The paprika on the hummus was heavy enough to be a flavor rather than a garnish and it was wonderful. The chiogga beets were sliced very thing, so that they added a hint of flavor, but didn’t overpower the rest of the salad.

Chuck and Carolyn both had the vegetarian dish for their entrees. It was preparations of local eggplant prepared 4 different ways, heirloom tomatoes, housemade ricotta, sungold tomatoes, shaved radish and pea tendrils. I had crispy Carolina mackerel with warm gazpacho, leeks, cucumber, shiso and pepper.

I love how we share forks around the table.

Because we couldn't decide on just one

Birthday cake!

(middle) NC peaches, pecan caramel, blueberry sorbet, white chocolate brittle, vanilla sponge cake

(bottom) chocolate chip fritters, cherry gastrique, kheer ice cream, pistachios

(top) green tomato tart, shortbread, lemon basil, green tomato marmalade, basil-buttermilk ice cream

We were shocked to find that the tomato tart was the most interesting,  Tomatoes just don’t seem to led themselves to a dessert.  But, BOY! were we surprised. The basil ice cream was subtle and smooth and perfect. The white blob on the chocolate chip fritters on the bottom was kheer ice cream with a strong cardamom flavor. The blueberry sorbet had a stronger blueberry flavor than simple blueberries. It was a hell of a finish.

Today, I’m finishing a batch of sweet pickles, going to the gym and going to a wine tasting followed by sushi for dinner with my loving spouse.

Tomorrow, we will celebrate with dinner at Mez, a “contemporary Mexican” restaurant, on the way to a Punch Brothers concert at the art museum in Raleigh.

After a restful Friday, I go back to work on Saturday.  My co-workers are plottin’ and schemin’ something.  But, I don’t know all the details, yet.  I know there is a Triple Chocolate cake from Ketchie Creek Bakery involved.

Jeannie doesn’t call it the Festival of Kitty because I celebrate in half measures. ;-)

Back in the saddle, again.

I have joined a gym.  Again.

After a lifetime of thinking of myself as anti-exercise, I have come to the conclusion that is really unproductive and I am changing my mind.  I will be 55 next week and if I don’t want to be seriously decrepit in 20 years, I better get on with doing something to avoid it.

I know the joys of endorphins from training for a half marathon and walking enough to do a couple of 5Ks.  So, that hasn’t been the issue.

I just hate trying to do anything when the weather is nasty.  Over 80ºF or under 35ºF and I would stay inside thankyouverymuch.  And the weather hasn’t been particularly conducive.  There has also been the lure of yard work.  On the few days that have been nice enough to be outside, there has been weeding needed.  And that has been all the excuse I required to avoid committing exercise.

But, I am technically obese and unquestionably overweight.  And with a family history of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, that’s just stupid.

A friend told me she was planning to join Planet Fitness when she got back from her vacation.  (I learned later that she had been a member in another town for a decade, but life had happened, including a marriage and a move, and she had lost the habit of going.)  I had the need for something in the back of my head and that lit the fuse.  There is a PF gym between my house and my work; the detour is less than a mile.

I joined last week. I am doing everything on the lowest weight so that I don’t hurt myself and punk out (again). I will increase gradually.

I have had training on the 30 minute workout room and the 12 minute abs room. I have done both unsupervised. I have used the treadmill, and the elliptical and cross country ski machines.

I feel the new muscle use in all my parts. The only place that is sore is stomach and ribs where I did more than was wise when I was learning those machines.

I like that they have a system that works all my major muscle groups and I don’t have to remember what to do. I don’t intend to do everything every day.

I warm up with one of the cardio gadgets then do one or both of those rooms, depending on the day of the week. I work 12 hours shifts on Saturday and Sunday, so I intend to do the Abs room and ski on Monday since that is the lightest day. On Wednesday, I will do both rooms after a cardio warmup. Probably, the same on Friday. I don’t have a favorite cardio gadget and that’s a good thing. I expect it’s to my benefit to use all of them so that my legs and arms get different uses.

The hydromassage bed is a blessing to my lower back and shoulders after a weekend toiling over a hot pipette, so that is getting use, too.

Wine and cheese

This post is for the amusement of avincie and annmeeker.

My loving husband got me a wine club membership. It is at the Cork And Cow Wine Bar at the mall near my job. We found the place by accident when we had time to kill before a movie and went in for a wine tasting.

Their tastings are offered on Tuesdays and Wednesdays every week and cost $5. YOu are given 2 crackers, a bite of cheese and tastes of 4 wine that are generous enough to be the equivalent of a glass of wine.

The club membership is $99 for the first 3 months and $40/month thereafter. It provides you with your name engraved on a Riedel red wine glass that stays there for your use when you come to taste, one free tasting every week and 2 bottles of wine chosen from the wines tasted on the first week of each month. If/when you cancel your membership, you take the glass home with you. the club wine prices range between $20 and $40 each month.

This is a fun thing for wine drinkers and I rarely go in for a tasting without spending “extra” money on tapas. And sometimes another glass or bottle of wine. Everybody wins.

Now, the Cow part of the menu. They have nice cheeses. I can easily find 3 to put together one of their cheese plates. And the bite they give you with a tasting can stretch to a nibble with each sample of wine. It changes each week, with the wines, so that can be its own adventure.

And, of course, I lost the little list of what was served the first week of this month. That was the week that the cheese was manchego.  This is a sheeps’ milk cheese.  And I usually like it.  But, I found it to be an interesting combination with the wines.  Because I hate goat cheese with the heat of a thousand suns. OK. Maybe not quite that bad. But, goats’ milk and its cheeses have a musty flavor that I find very unpleasant.  Most people I know don’t taste it whatever that particular molecule is.  I can’t avoid it.  It cannot be hidden or covered up.  My sister has tried.  And 2 of the 4 wines turned the usually pleasant sheep cheese into goat cheese on my tongue

I found that to be a fascinating example of wine and food working together.   Or not working.

I am repeatedly intrigued by how our physical perceptions differ and change.  That one was pretty dramatic.

Reading list

I am reading Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. Murakami writes a kind of
magical realism that is quite languid and rambling. I never have any
idea of where his stories will end up. This one is 2 separate story
lines in alternating chapters that don’t seem to have any point of
convergence. At least not yet, and I’m about 1/3 of the way through
the book.

I recently finished a trilogy of Elmore Leonard novellas. I’m a fan.
He tended to write write grey characters. Rarely all good or all
bad; at the very least, flawed. Get Shorty was almost verbatim
the movie. (I think he generally wrote books that were easily adapted
to screenplays.) Tishomingo Blues had a happier ending that I
tend to expect from Leonard. Killshot had me nervous the whole
time I was reading it, waiting for something awful to happen to the
main characters because the bad guys were absolute psychopaths.

Wheel of Time

I just finished listening to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. The series is 14 volumes and they are all over 20 hours long; some over 40. I had started them when they first came out, but got frustrated by the need to reread them when the new ones were released in order to remember all the characters and decided to wait until it was finished.

It’s a sword and sorcery fantasy series. I like the story. I, generally, like the characters. However, Jordan’s writing style is Dickensian. He describes what everyone is wearing EVERY TIME YOU ENCOUNTER THEM. All the horses get names. And descriptions. I tend to skip over battle descriptions when I read a book. You can’t really do that with audio.  Also, the raging sexism is tiresome.

Am I sorry I spent the time listening to them? No. I was going to be listening to something, anyway.

Do I regret giving time to this story. No. I was satisfied with the finished product. Although, I did get frustrated with the slow pace caused by the excessive descriptions, sometimes.

Will I listen to it again? Hard to say. I might decide to revisit it in a decade.

Do I wish I had paid $28 per hardback to read it sooner? HELL NO. I really do feel like half the paper was wasted.

Excerpts from ‘The Last Viridian Note by Bruce Sterling

You will need to divide your current possessions into four major categories.

1. Beautiful things.
2. Emotionally important things.
3. Tools, devices, and appliances that efficiently perform a useful function.
4. Everything else.

“Everything else” will be by far the largest category. Anything you have not touched, or seen, or thought about in a year — this very likely belongs in “everything else.”

You should document these things. Take their pictures, their identifying makers’ marks, barcodes, whatever, so that you can get them off eBay or Amazon if, for some weird reason, you ever need them again. Store those digital pictures somewhere safe — along with all your other increasingly valuable, life-central digital data. Back them up both onsite and offsite.

Then remove them from your time and space. “Everything else” should not be in your immediate environment, sucking up your energy and reducing your opportunities. It should become a fond memory, or become reduced to data.

It may belong *to* you, but it does not belong *with* you. You weren’t born with it. You won’t be buried with it. It needs to be out of the space-time vicinity. You are not its archivist or quartermaster. Stop serving that unpaid role.

Beautiful things are important. If they’re truly beautiful, they should be so beautiful that you are showing them to people. They should be on display: you should be sharing their beauty with others. Your pride in these things should enhance your life, your sense of taste and perhaps your social standing.

They’re not really *that* beautiful? Then they’re not really beautiful. Take a picture of them, tag them, remove them elsewhere.

All of us have sentimental keepsakes that we can’t bear to part with. We also have many other objects which simply provoke a panicky sense of potential loss — they don’t help us to establish who we are, or to become the person we want to be. They subject us to emotional blackmail.

Is this keepsake so very important that you would want to share its story with your friends, your children, your grandchildren? Or are you just using this clutter as emotional insulation, so as to protect yourself from knowing yourself better?

Think about that. Take a picture. You might want to write the story down.
Then — yes — away with it.

You are not “losing things” by these acts of material hygiene. You are gaining time, health, light and space. Also, the basic quality of your daily life will certainly soar. Because the benefits of good design will accrue to you where they matter — in the everyday.

Now for category three, tools and appliances. They’re not beautiful and you are not emotionally attached to them. So they should be held to keen technical standards.

Is your home a museum? Do you have curatorial skills? If not, then entropy is attacking everything in there. Stuff breaks, ages, rusts, wears out, decays. Entropy is an inherent property of time and space. Understand this fact. Expect this. The laws of physics are all right, they should not provoke anguished spasms of denial.

You will be told that you should “make do” with broken or semi-broken tools, devices and appliances. Unless you are in prison or genuinely crushed by poverty, do not do this. This advice is wicked.

Get excellent tools and appliances. Not a hundred bad, cheap, easy ones. Get the genuinely good ones. Work at it. Pay some attention here, do not neglect the issue by imagining yourself to be serenely “non-materialistic.” There is nothing more “materialistic” than doing the same household job five times because your tools suck. Do not allow yourself to be trapped in time-sucking black holes of mechanical dysfunction. That is not civilized.

That smile

Yesterday, I was listening to Clive Barker’s The Scarlet Gospels.  I’ve really been enjoying it.  It’s incredibly grizzly and completely over the top.  (It’s about Pinhead, of Hellraiser fame; so, that’s to be expected.)

One of the characters was described as having a “Gioconda smile.”

The Mona Lisa (La Gioconda or La Joconde, or Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo)

The Mona Lisa (La Gioconda or La Joconde, or Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo)

I like Barker’s use of language as much as I enjoy the stories he tells.

Ruining a steak

I saw this graphic on FaceBook this morning and it made me think of my grandmother:

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Kate grew up in the country. Her father was a farmer with a third grade education. They didn’t always have a lot of ready cash, but they were never, ever hungry. It was kind of a shame that she didn’t like “vegetavles,” because they were abundant. She was a bread-and-meat kind of girl. And, when she was old, she enjoyed going out for dinner to a steak house.

I took her to a Western Sizzlin’ or whatever equivalent was in Morganton, NC, one time, and freaked out the guy taking our order when she asked for a filet mignon cooked well done. He said “It will be a charcoal briquet if we do that.” She insisted that was always how she had her meat cooked. He found his manager to deal with her because he was at a complete loss for what to do. The manager said, “We can butterfly it and cook it that way, but a filet is too think to make it well done and still be edible.” I said that would be fine.

When it came to the table, she was delighted. It was the best steak she had ever had.

Sometime after that, I took her out for dinner, again, and, again, she ordered a filet cooked to death. The server got this appalled expression and started to say something. I stopped him, smiling, and said, “Just have the kitchen butterfly it and cook it that way. She will be delighted with it.” He kind of shook his head and wrote down the rest of our order.

And she was delighted. I was, too. It made me happy to have the ability to make her happy and de-stress the people who were helping me do that.