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WHAT IF Fortuna is More Than Just a Clever Name for a Cat?

As I’ve written before, the naming of our dogs and cats is a very important family ritual (and will be the focus of an upcoming blog).  One of my personal favorite names that we have not yet used for a cat is “Fortuna” – do I need to point out that most cats are “for tuna”?  Even though my topic today has nothing to do with naming pets, it has a lot to do with Fortuna.

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The Roman goddess Fortuna and her wheel

It turns out that Fortuna, supposedly the daughter of Jupiter, was a Roman goddess who controlled fortune and capriciousness in human affairs.  If she were posting pictures of herself on Instagram she would be near a Rota Fortunae (wheel of fortune), signifying that our fate in life is determined as much by the spin of the wheel as by our own doings.  I must admit that Fortuna’s mythical wheel of fortune often seems to make a lot of sense to me.

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A Fortuna selfie for Instagram?

I was sharing my thoughts on this with our son Travis and he pointed out that Ignatius Reilly, that wonderfully quirky character from A Confederacy of Dunces, referred to Fortuna throughout the novel, something I had forgotten.  Curious, I did a search of the novel on my Kindle –  her name appears 31 times.  Even if you are not a Fortuna fan, I would highly recommend Confederacy – it is a one-of-a-kind classic.

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Ignatius mentioned Fortuna 31 times

I am prattling on about some obscure goddess named Fortuna because that’s what immediately popped into my head when Ann suggested a What If theme for today’s blog. The interventions of this mischievous goddess into our day-to-day lives leaves no option but to contemplate “what if.”   To illustrate, I want to to share one particularly significant what if moment for Ann and me.  It has to do with an army captain, whom I never met, the the military draft, and maybe a flu bug. 

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The sword of Damocles?

Here’s some context.  It was near the end of 1966 and I was a fledgling school teacher at Chino High.   Ann and I had just got engaged.  Shortly after our engagement I learned that I had been reclassified by the Selective Service System as 1A and was no longer guaranteed a deferment for teaching.  A 1A classification at that time was a sure ticket to being drafted with the near certainty of ending up in Vietnam.  I could see only one alternative to the mandatory draft –  join a reserve unit. 

So, I looked into the air national guard, the naval reserve, and even the coast guard reserve.  Nothing panned out until I learned of some openings in an army intelligence reserve unit based in Los Angeles.  I drove to LA to speak with the unit’s head sergeant. 

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Some consider this to be an oxymoron; I considered it to be a way around the draft.

During the interview he asked if I knew any foreign languages.  Suppressing the urge to tell him that I was pretty good at Pig Latin,  I told him I had couple of semesters of junior college Spanish under my belt.  He said that’s great and asked me to put on some headphones and translate into English as much of a recording as I could.  I didn’t understand a thing I heard, jotting down some random notes about what I guessed was being said.  He glanced at my results and said that was close enough for government work (it wasn’t very comforting to learn that’s all it took to get into army intelligence).

fort Ord on the beach

Fort Ord was considered one of the most attractive locations of any U.S. Army post because of its proximity to the beach and California weather. I was already packing my suntan lotion and trunks.

The most exciting part was that as soon as I was sworn in I would be sent for training at the army’s Military Language Center located at Fort Ord on the Monterey peninsula.   All I needed to do was fill out some forms, pass a physical, and appear at the reserve unit’s monthly meeting in three days to be sworn in.  I completed the forms and passed the physical that day.  Then I rushed back to tell Ann the good news, not realizing that Fortuna’s fateful wheel would soon intercede.

The day prior to the reserve unit meeting the sergeant called to inform me that the commanding officer had come down with the flu and wouldn’t be able to swear me at the upcoming monthly meeting.  I would have to wait until the next meeting.

One week later I became one of the more than 300,000 American men that year to open an envelope with this statement inside: “Greeting: You are hereby ordered for induction in the Armed Forces of the United States.”  This meant that I was immediately ineligible for any other kind of military service.  My completed forms and passed physical were for naught.  I was had. 

I can’t tell you how many times I have wondered “what if” about this.  What if that captain had not caught the flu that weekend and swore me into the reserves prior to getting my draft notice?  Would I have been able to continue teaching at Chino High?  Would I have still gone to grad school?  Would I have avoided Vietnam?  Would Ann and I have had children earlier?  Would we ever have met folks like the Davis family (see Ann’s blog)?  Would I have learned a language more useful than Pig Latin?

Anns Fortuna

It was no coincidence that a few years ago Ann chose this Fortuna image for her email profile picture.

Of course that is just one of many what if moments that have influenced the direction and substance of our lives. Even though we had dreaded the thought of my being drafted, the army’s disruption of the first couple of years of our married life strengthened our relationship and opened opportunities we hadn’t imagined. Perhaps the best way to think about Fortuna is to realize that when the Rota Fortunae deals us a not-so-desirable outcome it provides a potential opportunity to confront the hardship and become stronger for the effort.  

Here’s to good fortuna for all in 2019!

New Beginnings

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Do we need to make New Year’s resolutions about food?  If so, Harvard Medical School offers up “Six Simple Ways to Smarter, Healthier Eating.”  I’ve read it – and lots of other articles with nutrition advice – carefully.  Harvard’s #6 is the absolute best: “Plan meals that are delightful, delicious and healthy.”  (I would probably add that planning is not enough; you need to also COOK and EAT the meal you plan! 🙂 )

Please note though – I’m not giving up totally on salt or sugar or bacon or coffee or red meat or butter – or wine – as this new year starts.  I did, however, many moons ago give up drinking almost all juices, eating ultra-processed food and most pasta (which, all on my own, I decided made me gain weight).  I never eat more than half of a sandwich, and I try to have desserts around only when we have company.

Admittedly, I intend my last meal on earth to be spritz cookie batter – made with a blend of butter (preferably Kerrygold) and sugar (definitely cane, not coconut – a family insider joke).  I’d be the first to say that Julia Child and I could have been soul sisters in our love of butter.  High on my 2020 Bucket List is a visit to Bella la Crema,  a new innovative “butter bar” the next time we’re near Lyons, Colorado.  Yay, Colorado! Yay having friends we want to visit in Boulder!

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That said,  a keeper resolution is that Andy and I will cut back on the amount of beef and lamb and pork we eat – for the earth’s health maybe even more than our own health.  For the time being, I’ll pass on plant-based meat.

I most definitely intend to follow Harvard’s suggestion #2:  Harness the power of nuts (and seeds).  Here are a couple of articles to support this.

8 Health Benefits of Nuts

Super Seeds and Nuts You Should Include in Your Diet

Both are well worth a read – and we’ve added them to our Food for Thought (lots of articles there are worth a read!).

To accompany this 2020 resolution of mine, let me share a few nutty family stories and recipes.  Clearly, the family is very seedy 🙂  And – on another note – Andy was quite tweedy in his “higher” education LSU position – that is until he became quite needy in his “hire” as an adjunct.  See today’s Andy’s Corner!

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Picture this:  it’s 4:30 pm on Christmas day.  Your family has all agreed to contribute something to the Christmas dinner.  Your daughter is putting the finishing touches on her Moroccan stew; your son just iced his pumpkin bundt cake; his partner is preparing a preserved-lemon dressing for her Moroccan salad.  Your older grandson….well…let’s just say a roasted carrot dip never happened 🙂

Your small kitchen is pretty hectic about now….and then your 14-year-old grandson (i.e., Moss – of guest blogging fame) announces he’s ready to make his appetizers – which will be cracker/crisps – from scratch.  And he has never made them before.  And they have to chill in the freezer for at least an hour.

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This is not our grandson Moss making crackers or Moss in our kitchen – but it is Moss making a chocolate cake for his 14th birthday! Note: sugary, chocolate-y cakes should most definitely be allowed on birthdays!

Deep breathing.  It will all be fine.

About 2 hours later (after mixing, baking, chilling, slicing and then re-baking the cracker/crisp dough), we all sit down to taste the just-out-of-the-oven homemade appetizer cranberry nut cracker/crisps – served with fig jam and brie.  And they are delicious!

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Fortunately, Ono Moore, our Siamese cat, is not fond of blue cheese or fig jam or even Nutty Seedy Fruity Crisps

Earlier in December our daughter tipped me off to Sikil-P’ak – both a healthy and unusual pumpkin seed dip – which she served at a recent All-Ladies party.  She was also responsible for the recipe for spiced nuts, which I’ve included, straight from her Picnics cookbook.  Both of these recipes are perfect for incorporating nuts and seeds into your 2020 diet – and loving every bite.

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New Beginnings: Moving from Higher to “Hire” Education

Today’s blog New Beginnings is primarily about Ann’s New Year’s resolution to eat more healthy food.  Given that in Andy’s Corner I am allowed to “go off script” from time to time, my New Beginnings is more about moving from “higher” to “hire” education.  Let me explain.

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This cartoon panel by Garry Trudeau is not only funny but hits the nail on the head when it comes to “hire” education.

I previously mentioned that for 27 years in my former life I was a member of the LSU  Sociology faculty.  While there I had my own office – with windows!, a separate office for graduate students who worked for me, funds for research and travel, and was obligated to teach just one course per semester – of my choice. I probably don’t need to mention that this rigorous teaching schedule garnered little sympathy from Ann who was on her feet teaching 6 classes a day at Scotlandville Magnet High School.

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Stubbs Hall at LSU, home of the Sociology Department

After taking early retirement in 2002 and moving to Glen Ellen, we found the cost of living to be a bit heftier than expected and decided it might be wise for me to earn a little extra income by seeking teaching opportunities at nearby Sonoma State U.  I inquired and was hired on a semester-to-semester basis as an adjunct.  A New Beginning had begun!

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Stevenson Hall, home of the SSU Sociology Department

That it was a “new beginning” first hit home when the department administrative assistant showed me what would be my office.  I was to share space with another “more senior” adjunct instructor whose book shelves and desk already pretty much filled up the small (windowless) room.  There was no computer or extra desk for me, but I was told that I would be able to find a desk at surplus across campus.

After checking out the massive, mostly three-legged surplus desks, I ended up buying my own tiny Ikea computer desk that would fit in the corner and had room for my laptop and a few books.  Fortunately, there was a perfectly fine office chair, as long as you didn’t try to lean back in it.

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Comparing the courses I taught at LSU and SSU provides clear evidence of “New Beginnings” 

The first teaching gig I managed to land was a summer course that was paid according to how many students enrolled.  Five students showed up.  I had prepared the course, Population and Society, in the lecture format I used at LSU but quickly discovered that doing a formal stand-up lecture to 5 stone-faced students wasn’t going to cut it. So, I totally revamped my teaching style from a lecture/performance mode to a small group and interactive mode.  It seemed to work.

Before long I was asked to teach other classes that came down the pike that needed an instructor; I always agreed to do them (see the above table). I even was asked to teach in the Criminology and Criminal Justice Studies Department.   Eventually I ended up teaching the equivalent of full time (i.e., 4 courses per semester), which at the adjunct pay level earned about half of what a tenure track faculty would get.

Despite the culture shock of moving from a secure tenure track academic position to a precarious semester-by-semester status, I have to admit that I loved what I was doing.  My SSU faculty colleagues were fantastic and never once did I feel less valuable because of my adjunct status (except, of course, when the paycheck came in).  I actually looked forward to showing up at my modest office and interacting with the other faculty members.  More importantly, the opportunity to teach so many different courses forced me to rediscover my sociological imagination and energize my love of the discipline – and teaching.  Down deep somewhere I am a ham and love an audience.  I must admit that this what I miss most now that I am a two-time retiree.

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My SSU Senior Seminar class, 2008

In the end, I can’t think of a better way to ease out of a career that I loved so much.  I just hope that some of the students I encountered while in my adjunct phase came away with something more valuable than just earning a few credits.  Maybe they will think of their life’s trials and tribulations as “new beginnings” – with the potential of having great endings.

Making Swedish Pancakes is Not for Sissies

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Ann is writing about how I have taken over head-chef duties in the household while her fractured ankle heals, so it seems appropriate that I devote this Andy’s Corner to something chef-ish.  Actually, I have been waiting for the opportunity to elaborate on one of my signature breakfast dishes – Swedish Pancakes.  I’m not sure what “signature dish” means, but I suppose my 50 years of experience making them should somehow merit “signature” status.

Swedish pancakes entered my life shortly after Ann and I got engaged – something couples did before getting married back then.   Our engagement meant that I had to make an obligatory journey to Colorado to meet her parents and, if lucky, get their approval. 

Gladys with mother and father

A very early photo of Ann’s mother (on the right) with Ann’s grandmother Annie and Grandfather Gus.  

I did get their approval, but better yet, at their breakfast table I was introduced to Swedish pancakes.  It was a life-changing moment.  Ann’s mom (pictured above) used a recipe passed down by her Swedish mother, Annie Carlson (also pictured above).  We published this recipe in our Pass-along post in which Ann tells us that Swedish pancakes were an almost-weekly breakfast as she was growing up.  Turns out that they have been an almost weekly breakfast for us – as well as for our kids when they were growing up.  

The reason I have been wanting to revisit the recipe is that I suspect our instructions could be misleading to the naive reader regarding how “simple” it may be to produce decent Swedish pancakes.  Sure, putting together the batter is a piece of cake, so to speak.  But the cooking instructions are woefully understated:

Lightly butter a large skillet. Heat over medium-high heat until quite hot. Pour 1/3 cup batter into skillet. Swirl batter around to form a thin 8- to 9-inch pancake. Cook until small bubbles are visible on top and the underside is golden brown. Using a thin spatula, flip the pancake and cook until other side is lightly brown.

Sounds pretty simple huh?  Actually there is much more to these instructions than meets the eye.  To put some meat to these instructional bones I am going to walk you through my SOP (Standard Operating Procedure for you civilians out there) that I have developed over the years.

swedish pancake skillet

The Lodge 90G l0 1/2 inch skillet/griddle at high heat

The proper equipment is essential.  The “large skillet” I use is a Lodge 90G 10 1/2 inch fry pan/griddle (see photo).  Cast iron gets up to the necessary high (read, hazardous) temperatures required for the perfect pancake.  The pan needs to be low-rimmed so the spatula can easily slip under the pancake without destroying it.   For some odd reason, these skillets have obscenely short handles requiring industrial-weight oven mitts to handle them once they get up to temperature.  

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My spatula collection.  You can never have too many.

Second, it is essential to use a thin and somewhat flexible spatula (pictured). I can’t tell you how many spatulas I have tried and discarded over the years.  If too stiff it is difficult to maneuver under the pancake.  If too flexible it will not be steady while making the critical flip. 

Also, it helps to have something that consistently delivers the precise amount of batter to the pan.  I use a long handled 1/3 cup measuring cup.  

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Swedish Pancake tools: butter in custard dish, 1/3 cup measuring cup, the special spatula, and the cast iron skillet/griddle.

When I say the pan must be “quite hot” when the batter is poured, I mean smoking hot.  Fortunately, we have an exhaust fan over the stove.  Otherwise (and we learned this the hard way) you will be serving these guys to the tune of the deafening screech of a smoke alarm. 

Butter for Swedish Pancakes

“Lightly” buttering the pan.  Watch out for flare-ups from the butter vapor!

“Lightly buttering” the skillet is also tricky.  To butter the skillet I take a half cube of butter with the wrapping cut back half way and rub it on the hot skillet.  I use a small custard cup to hold the butter when not in use so as not to get butter all over the counter (Ann defines this as anal retentive behavior, but I can’t help it).  

After each pancake is removed and served I rub the butter on the pan getting ready for the next run.  If the pan is at the appropriately high heat don’t be surprised if the vapor from the butter causes a dramatic flare up from the stove burners (if you have an electric stove this should not be a problem, but you would be missing the excitement).

Here is the kicker to the instructions:   “Using a thin spatula, flip the pancake…”  This is something not to be taken lightly; it is a maneuver that requires considerable practice (and patience).  It is all in the wrist, not the arm. When I first started making these guys I probably ruined more in the flipping process than I completed.  So don’t get discouraged – at least for the first ten years of trying.

Swedish Pancake

A perfectly flipped Swedish Pancake

You may ask, why go to all of this trouble?  All I can say is that first, they taste fantastic, especially with your favorite jam or jelly.  Second, and probably more important, despite the many (many) years I have been making Swedish pancakes, I still get a perceptible thrill each time I flip one that does not rip and is nicely mottled on the underside (see above photo).  I would guess that this is not unlike talented artists who create art for the sake of the art itself.  Fortunately, this is a form of art that doubles for a great breakfast. Bon Appétit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God She Works in Mysterious Ways

 

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Rhea – FKA Ancho Antwerp Walden Hill

Her name was to be Ancho Antwerp Walden Hill (long story) and we were to pick her up at SFO on Friday, October 25 at 1:30 p.m.  Now she lives in Maine and is instead “Rhea.”  Her given name when she was born near Fairplay, Colorado, was Baby Ruth.

Being totally bonkers about our 9-year-old Aussie, Oakley, (check out Andy’s funny/clever video on today’s Andy’s Corner!) we were (I was?) bound and determined to have another dog with her bloodline.  There had been some serious discussions amongst friends and family about whether an 8-week-old puppy was something we really needed.  House too small for 2 dogs?  Check.  Puppy too active for two older people?  Likely check.  Oakley pretty bent out of shape?  Check.  Two Siamese cats unwelcoming?  Two checks.

Fortuna intervened.  According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Fortuna is often represented bearing a cornucopia as the giver of abundance and a rudder as controller of destinies, or standing on a ball to indicate the uncertainty of fortune.  Andy wrote a nice bit about Fortuna on Andy’s Corner a while back.

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Fortuna – as depicted in this Vienna statue

On Wednesday, October 23, PG&E declared they were shutting off power in our area due to extreme fire risk (another long – and not happy – story).  Our neighbors were vacationing in Hawaii, and we were caring for their place, so Andy and I decided we needed to check on their generator (we really should invest in stock in generator manufacturers given the number that have been sold in our area in the last 2 years).

Did you know that every few years oaks produce an overabundance of acorns?  This appears to be one of those years for Northern California.  Joan Morris, a local wildlife columnist, explains, “Scientists still aren’t certain why oak trees produce massive amounts of acorns on a semi-regular basis. They know that the weather makes a difference, but it’s not recent weather, rather weather from a year or two earlier.”  She continues, “Scientists also believe that oaks might reserve their energy, building up to a massive release of acorns as a way of self-preservation. By putting out fewer acorns some years, the trees may actually be keeping in check certain populations of animals that eat the acorns. Then, when the oaks do mass produce, the acorns stand a better chance of becoming trees because there are fewer animals to eat them. As it is, only about one in 10,000 ever become trees. The others are eaten before they can establish roots.”

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Did Fortuna, as the giver of abundance, provide us with these acorns?

Long story short – winds had blown tons of acorns off their oak in the week since our friends had left their home for their Hawaiian holiday.  Andy and I dodged the acorns successfully for a bit, but then I came rushing down their backyard hill, stepped on a spot particularly loaded with those little slippery things, slid, fell, landed with my ankle twisted underneath me – and badly broke it.  Sh*t.  Actually, I may have said something worse.

I should have read this bit from Scott Aker, head of Washington DC’s National Arboretum, before heading out that day: “Clearing your garden of tenacious acorns can be a chore…acorns are sort of like ball bearings or marbles.  If they get on walkways, we try to be very conscientious about clearing them. We don’t want anybody to break a leg. I would caution your readers to pay attention to that. Try to get them off walkways as early as they can. It may be a daily chore.

Our agonizing decision had been made by the time I had surgery on my ankle, Friday, October 25.  Ancho, instead of arriving at SFO that day, was now on a flight to Maine, not San Francisco.  And Andy and I came home – along with my walking boot and crutches and the prospect of 8 “non-weight-bearing” weeks – to a one-dog household.

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Is Oakley sad that Ancho didn’t join our little Glen Ellen familia?  Maybe yes; likely no.  Is Andy sad that Ancho didn’t join us?  Maybe yes; likely no.  Note: photo taken just before October 25.

Was it just bad luck when I fell on the acorns?  Was it Fortuna intervening in my life and the life of little Ancho Antwerp Walden Hill?  Should I be comforted by this statement regarding Fortune?

Luck – good or bad – never lasts.

And now on to recipes.  At first I was going to post a recipe using Ancho chiles – but then decided that a more fitting recipe would put acorns at the forefront.  TENACIOUS ACORNS!  Andy found this recipe when he did this blog.  These cookies are delicious.  BUT – it’s almost impossible to find acorn flour.  And I don’t think you’re going to want to make the flour yourself (see these instructions from Mother Earth News).  So if you don’t have it, simply substitute almond flour and the cookies will be gluten-free and delicious (though golden, not chocolate brown).

Acorn Cookies

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