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An Infinitesimal Speck

It took the soundtrack for a recent TV series to make me understand what a seemingly infinitesimal speck we are in the universe.

Should I blame my parents for sheltering me? After all, you’ll recall that my dad is the one who didn’t allow me to take high school biology (WHY I wasn’t allowed remains a pressing question, never to be answered) – and my mother forced me to take high school Home Economics so I could learn to iron a man’s shirt – and cook – and probably be a stay-at-home housewife.

My parents didn’t realize I was tougher than I looked.

Or maybe I should blame Colorado College, my alma mater. Didn’t they want their liberal arts students to be well-rounded and knowledgeable about the world…and beyond?

Whoever is to blame (obviously, I don’t want to blame myself), the fact is that I know nothing NOTHING about the universe – or even about the Milky Way Galaxy.

As seen from space: the earth is the bright speck (beside Andy’s arrow).

Carl Sagan wrote: “The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Sagan also was sure that the spacecrafts Pioneer 10 and 11, launched in 1972 and 1973, had the following plaque – so that any alien finding it would know who we are and where we’re located.

The plaque aboard Pioneer 10 and 11.

Maybe that all helps explain why the “Galaxy Song” from 1983’s The Meaning of Life by Monty Python absolutely blows my mind. Maybe it blows my mind because I didn’t take biology so I didn’t know that’s how sex and birth happen – and I’ll add an “R” rating to this video, just in case. :). But mostly I’m just overwhelmed at those numbers. “Our galaxy is one of millions of billions” and “our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars” and “it’s a hundred thousand light years side by side” (I estimate that’s about 620,000,000,000,000,000 miles; correct me if I’m wrong). Coming right after Easter and Passover, it’s tricky to fit that into religion – as we know it and preach it – don’t you think? Coincidentally, religion is a topic in today’s Andy’s Corner – but on a more utilitarian and down-to-earth level.  Think “Manna from Heaven.”

You’ll love the Python video – just be sure to read all of the lyrics. They’re impressive…and funny.

Released in 1983

Whenever life gets you down, Mrs. Brown,
And things seem hard or tough,
And people are stupid, obnoxious or daft,

And you feel that you’ve had quite eno-o-o-o-o-ough,

Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
And revolving at 900 miles an hour.
It’s orbiting at 19 miles a second, so it’s reckoned,
The sun that is the source of all our power.
Now the sun, and you and me, and all the stars that we can see,
Are moving at a million miles a day,
In the outer spiral arm, at 40,000 miles an hour,
Of a galaxy we call the Milky Way.

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars;
It’s a hundred thousand light-years side to side;
It bulges in the middle sixteen thousand light-years thick,
But out by us it’s just three thousand light-years wide.
We’re thirty thousand light-years from Galactic Central Point,
We go ’round every two hundred million years;
And our galaxy itself is one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe.

Our universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding,
In all of the directions it can whiz;
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute and that’s the fastest speed there is.
So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth;
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere out in space,
‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth!

Songwriters: Eric Idle / John Du Prez

What made me think of Eric Idle’s song after almost 40 years? Well, Andy and I have watched all of the episodes of the TV series Better Things, and the beginning of the final season uses the song as the backdrop to Sam Fox, the mother, as she begins a new day. Sam has reached middle age and is feeling a little unmoored.

Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox. I’ll bet she taught HER daughters about the universe; we’re sure she tried to teach them about sex.

On top of that, Sara, our daughter, who has reached middle age and is feeling a little unmoored, sent me this quote, flying around the internet (with no apparent author). And voila. This blog was born.

Python’s The Meaning of Life concludes with the Lady Presenter being given the envelope containing the answer to What Is the Meaning of Life. And what is the answer? “Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”

We’ve got you covered! If you want to be nice to people, have them over. We all need to get out. And then serve up a fat-free and delicious slice of homemade Angel Food Cake with some lightly-sugared, fat-free strawberries or chunks of mango. Talk about books you’ve read. Might I suggest Steven Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (which is on my list to read)? And then take a walk (if in Glen Ellen, we recommend the Sonoma Regional Park or the Jack London State Historic Park).

We’re sure you’re already trying to live in peace and harmony. Or as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently expressed it – inspired by “the better angels of our nature.”

Remember – every peaceful, harmonious fraction of a dot counts.

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Angel Food Cake

We blog about the recipe here.

Angel Food Cake

Note: this really requires a tube pan; a bundt pan won’t do.  The cake needs to stick to the sides, so don’t use a non-stick pan. Updated from my 1965 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  • 1 c cake flour (spoon the flour into the measuring cup and then level with a knife)
  • 1 1/2 c sugar (divided)
  • 1 1/2 c (about 12) egg whites
  • 1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 tsp Diamond kosher salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla

In a food processor or blender, pulse 3/4 c of the sugar until fine and powdery.  Add the cake flour and salt to the food processor. Pulse 5-10 times until sugar/flour/salt mixture is aerated and light.

Beat egg whites with cream of tartar and vanilla until soft peaks form.  Add the remaining 3/4 c of sugar about 2 tablespoons at a time, continuing to beat until the mixture holds just barely stiff peaks (don’t overbeat).

Put the sugar/flour/salt mixture into a sieve and sprinkle about 1/4 of it over the beaten whites.  Fold it in using a rubber spatula.  Sprinkle another 1/4 over and fold in – and continue until all the sugar/flour/salt mixture is used up.

Scrape batter into an UNGREASED 10″ tube pan.  Level the top with the spatula.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until done (the top should be golden).  Invert the pan and let the cake cool.  Remove from the pan by using a knife to run around the inside of the pan and around the tube to release the cake and unmold. Then use the knife to release cake from bottom of pan and remove.

Of course, strawberries are great with this – but for a change try mangos – 1 large mango diced, 1 T sugar, 1 T lime juice, and 1 T cointreau.  Recipe brought to you by and Andy and Ann.

Y’all Come Back Now

Who says you can’t go home again? And is a picture really worth a thousand words?

Baton Rouge’s 2022 St Patrick’s Day Parade – and we missed it! But we’ll be back in 2023 for this Wearin’ of the Green parade.

Today’s BigLittleMeals blog is all about Louisiana, our home for 26 years. Today’s Andy’s Corner is all about weather – but not really about Louisiana weather (which has been a little scary).

We just returned to Baton Rouge with the entire family to celebrate our upcoming 55th wedding anniversary, and the trip was nostalgia-filled! Where to begin? With partying pictures of the St Patrick’s Day parade we just missed and which everyone was still raving about? With the 50 pounds of crawfish 18 of us devoured? With the restaurants which appear on practically every street corner with names like “Parrains” and “Beausoleil Coastal” and “Cou-yon’s Cajun BBQ” and “Louisiana Lagniappe” and “Roux61” and, of course, “Raising Cane’s?” or with Louisianans, the people?

So warm and so friendly. That’s how the family describes Louisianans. Our 92-year-old Baton Rouge friend, Katie, said it all. “In the midst of the pandemic, I just wanted to stand in the street with a sign around my neck that said ‘I need a hug.'” Katie is still missing the hugs she gets on a daily basis from her mailman (who is out on paternity leave).

And huge hugs were everywhere, Covid be damned.

Warm and friendly aren’t the only adjectives we’d use for Louisianans. How about fun-loving partiers?! “Laissez les bon temps rouler” (pronounced “Lay-say le bon tom roo-lay”) – “let the good times roll” – aptly describes not only New Orleans but the mood of the southern (i.e., Catholic) part of the state.

50 POUNDS of crawfish were totally devoured by the 18 of us…and 2 or 3 guests weren’t even eating them.
Yum. Lunch at Zeeland Street in Baton Rouge
We had to wait for a party of 35 and a party of 40 and a baseball team to be seated at Roux 61
Speaking of roux…here’s Emeril explaining how to make one.
A brown roux can also be described as “dark” or “chocolate.”

If you’re in the mood to P-A-R-T-Y (and who isn’t inclined that way after all this pandemic stuff?), here are some suggestions for a Louisiana-style celebration.

And today’s recipe for Barbecue Shrimp Dip has been a favorite of mine for years. I can’t believe it took me this long to post it. It’s the perfect dish when you’re ready to “let the good times roll.

If you want to party with the best of them, head on down South (unless, of course, you’re already there). We recommend a visit to the Baton Rouge/New Orleans area in the spring, so you can have crawfish at its best. In New Orleans be sure to see the National WWII Museum, enjoy some music at Preservation Hall, tour St Louis Cemetery No.1, shop on Magazine St, and eat at Seafood Sally’s.

The fam relishing the seafood at Seafood Sally’s

Oh – and take a tour at Jean Laffite National Park and Preserve; you’ll love the alligators and snakes!

New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp Dip (thanks to The Food Network for the photo and the recipe)
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New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp Dip

We blog about this recipe here.

New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp Dip

adapted from the Food Network

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c chili sauce (I use the brand “Homade Chili Sauce”)
  • 1/4 c fresh lemon juice
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp hot sauce
  • 1 lb peeled and deveined large shrimp
  • 4 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 c sour cream
  • 3 scallions, white and green parts separated and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves, chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Crackers and crunchy rustic bread for serving

Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Whisk in the chili sauce, lemon juice, garlic, Worcestershire, cayenne, oregano, paprika and hot sauce. Bring to a low simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook until they are pink and just cooked through, flipping once, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

When cool, place the shimp mixture in a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. (The shrimp mixture can be made up to a day in advance and refrigerated.)

Combine the cream cheese and sour cream in a large bowl and stir vigorously with a rubber spatula until smooth. Add the shrimp mixture, scallion whites, parsley, 1 1/4 teaspoons salt and a few grinds of pepper and stir to combine. Place in a 5-cup broiler-safe casserole dish and spread evenly.

Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter and pour over the top of the shrimp dip, making sure to cover the entire surface with a thin layer of butter. Sprinkle with the scallion greens. Chill for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

Just before serving, position an oven rack in the top third of the oven and preheat the broiler. Broil the dip until the butter layer just begins to melt. Serve with the crackers and crunchy bread.

Recipe brought to you by and Andy and Ann.

Waffling Over Waffles

My mom’s 1950s-era Sunbeam waffle iron has moved with us from Fort Collins, Colorado, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and to Glen Ellen, California. It still works. And it’s still a warm (literally and figuratively) reminder of a very special mother and her cooking.

But, of late, it’s been displaced in our kitchen by a Hamilton Beach Flip Belgian Waffle Maker with Non-stick Removable Plates, Browning Control, and Drip Tray.

It’s been a bittersweet decision. And we’ve waffled about it.

waffle (n): kind of batter-cake, baked crisp in irons and served hot,” 1744, from Dutch wafel “waffle,” from Middle Dutch or Middle Low German wafel, from Proto-Germanic *wabila- “web, honeycomb”   Waffle iron is from 1794.

waffle (v.) 1690s, “to yelp, bark,” frequentative of provincial waff “to yelp, to bark like a puppy” (1610); Figurative sense of “talk foolishly” (c. 1700) led to that of “vacillate, equivocate” (1803), originally a Scottish and northern English usage. Late 17c. Scottish also had waff “act of waving,” variant of waft, which might have influenced the sense.

(thanks to The Online Etymology Dictionary for that definition help)

Marie Kondo can preach about decluttering – but maybe the harder part is figuring what to do with what’s been decluttered.

What do I do with my mom’s waffle iron? Post it on NextDoor or Facebook Marketplace? Sell it on eBay? Put it in front of our house with a “free” sign? Give it to the Goodwill (which in our area has become pretty selective!)? Search for a needy person or grateful friend to bestow it upon? OR just keep it, tucked away, in hopes that one of our offspring will find it at some later date and treasure it?

There’s a fun website – and NYC store – with vintage toasters and waffle irons that have been refurbished (and sell for lots of $$!). It’s, should you be in the market for one. Unfortunately, the owner doesn’t want to buy old toasters and waffle irons, so I’ll cross that off the list of possibilities for riddance.

I just learned about the Buy Nothing Project after reading the comments made on this recent NYTimes article about decluttering; admittedly, I feel a little out-of-touch that I’d never heard of it before. According to their website, two friends from Bainbridge Island, Washington, started the project in 2013. According to “BuyNothing 101″…

BuyNothing offers people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide gift economy network in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people. We believe that communities are more resilient, sustainable, equitable, and joyful when they have functional gift economies.

My first reaction to the name – the BuyNothingProject – was “I can’t do that! I LOVE to buy things.” But after reading a little more, it appears I don’t have to quit buying to be a part of the group. Maybe I just need to cut back, which isn’t such a bad idea.

BuyNothing continues:

Rethinking consumption and refusing to buy new in favor of asking for an item from a neighbor may make an impact on the amount of goods manufactured in the first place, which in turn may put a dent in the overproduction of unnecessary goods that end up in our landfills, watersheds, and our seas. It most certainly creates connections between people who see each other in real life, not just online, leading to more robust communities that are better prepared to tackle both hard times and good by giving freely.

Andy – ever and always the social scientist – wonders how many manufacturing jobs will be lost if we all start cutting back on our purchases. There’s never an easy answer, is there!

As for our waffling over which kind of waffle we prefer, Andy decided to focus on the kind of waffle he really finds yucky. In fact, today’s Andy’s Corner focuses on how one person’s yucky food is another person’s yum food.

Our current yummy Belgian waffle recipe makes use of Andy’s sour dough starter, which is a good thing, since the sour dough bread-making around here has gone missing. What a relief that we found something else to do with that starter. If you don’t have sour dough starter and don’t have a friend to get some from free – and you don’t want to buy it or make it, try our favorite Buttermilk Waffle recipe, which comes from the 1989 New Basics Cookbook and uses the traditional waffle iron – or try Emeril Lagasse’s Belgian Waffle recipe, another favorite of ours.

If you find yourself waffling over whether or not to buy a waffle iron, think about your local BuyNothingProject (here’s a list of the USA groups and be aware that the Project is transitioning away from Facebook to their own App). Perhaps a neighbor is decluttering and wants a home for their used waffle iron. Think of the rewards: there’s less stuff in the landfill, you make a new neighborly friend, they declutter, and you get a free waffle iron. It’s a win win situation. No waffling necessary.

Meanwhile, I wish I could send off my vintage Sunbeam waffle iron to the British artist Joe Rush, who uses old metal items in his sculptures. His most famous work, done with recycled electronic items, must be the recent Mt. Recyclemore, depicting the 2021 attendees at the G7 Summit. What a way for metal to go! That’s Biden, BTW, on the right. The one on the far left is a gimme, if you look at the hair!

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