Monthly Archives: July 2015

“Don’t Know Much About History”

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So, I decided I needed something else to do.

I’m going back to school. 

Yep. I’m going to get the education I didn’t get 30 years ago. And I’m all in.

And since you have to start somewhere, I’m starting at my local community college.  Laugh if you must, but after everything that’s happened to me over the past year, a simple online course in accounting seemed like a good course to start with. Get the toes wet before jumping into the pool and all of that.

Last night I headed off to “New Student Orientation” night at Delaware County Community College, or DC Cubed as it’s sometimes called. So I park my car in the student lot after driving around for a bit and almost parking in the college president’s spot by mistake.

This is also known as “giving myself the tour”.

Anyway, I park and go inside and see that the coffee place is still open. I walk past the Delaware County Police Department recruits and realize they’re old enough to be my sons. Or I’m old enough to be their mom. Either way, I end up feeling like a cougar.

So I get my coffee and head upstairs to where the orientation is being held. At least I think it’s upstairs.

DC Cubed’s campus isn’t laid out like a traditional, suburban, college campus.  Instead of having a couple of main buildings connected with outside walkways, they’re all interconnected with overhead, enclosed glass walkways, which is a little confusing.

Okay. A lot confusing. Each room has a four digit number and according to the college website, the first digit is the building number, the second digit is the floor number and the last two is the room number. Which makes perfect sense unless you realize that the ground floor is actually the second floor and that they must have swapped the numbers on the STEM and Academic buildings because even though I should be on the second floor of the STEM building for this thing, it’s actually on the first floor of the Academic building.

So I give myself the tour of the third floor of the STEM building (I still have no idea how I got there) and ask a student who’s young enough to be my daughter where I am.

“I don’t know. This place is really confusing.”

I start looking for room numbers that sort of correspond to the room I’m looking for and the next thing I know I’m passing the art gallery and see a sign that says, “College Planning” with a big arrow on it. Mind you, it doesn’t say “New Student Orientation”, but it sounds reasonably close to the thing I’m looking for and if it isn’t, the people there might actually know what I’m talking about.

So I give myself the tour of the Academic Building and sure enough, it’s where I need to be. It is not where I thought I’d be, but a lot of my life has been like that.

I check in and get my official “New Student Orientation” folder and one of the women behind the desk says, “You know, your transcripts aren’t here yet.”

Full disclosure: I didn’t see anything on the website or in my “new student orientation” invitation telling me that I needed to have my transcripts there for this and I’d just faxed the request over that morning. It may have been on there, somewhere, and if it was, I didn’t see it.

“Um, I’m sorry, but I didn’t know that.”

“Well, I don’t know if you’re going to get anything out of this. After the presentation, you’ll meet with an advisor and schedule your fall classes and we can’t do that until we know what classes you’ve already taken.”

Oh. I didn’t see that, either. And that means I’ll also be expected to pay for them as well and I know that wasn’t there.  At all.

“And we need proof that you know math before you can take this accounting course.”

Oh. Well, I got through Calc Two and I did really well. “I’m sure you did, but…”  Yeah, okay. Got it.

“Do you want to take the math placement test?”

Now?

“Well, I’ve been up since 5 and I’m kind of beat.”

“It’s not hard.”

I really don’t want to take this. “Sure.”

So I give myself another tour of the Academic building, take an elevator up to the fourth floor, scoot along an interior hallway that overlooks some sort of study area three floors below (I’m beginning to look for moving stairways and talking paintings by now) and follow the signs that say “Testing Center”. I end up in a roundish sort of room with teal carpeting and a test proctor comes out to see me. I explain my situation and the next thing I know I’m sitting in front of a computer filling out my student information.

And as I’m wondering how hard can this be, the first question comes up and it’s an algebra one asking me what’s the correct equation for a discount. Which is pretty easy and I get the right answer and I move on to the next one.

It’s another algebra question. Okay, I can do this one, too. Then a few more that required me to do some factoring and to flip a fraction around for division and do I remember how to multiply exponents. And then it’s asking me for the roots of an equation and if the graph of this function is symmetrical around the x-axis. Or not.

And then it gets weird. And a little more difficult that I imagined. I factor some more and add polynomials and remember that if the coordinates are (-x, y) they’re in the upper left hand quadrant of the plane. And the old rule about absolute zero comes back to me (they’re always positive, which never made sense to me, but there you are) and I give up on more than a few of them and think about how pissed off I’m going to be if I just clicked my way into a remedial math class because an admissions person talked me into taking this.

I make semi-educated guesses about operations involving imaginary numbers and then the last question comes up and it’s an inverse function question. I can’t remember my f of x from my g of x by this point, so I click “C” for absolutely no good reason at all.

I signal to the proctor in the other room that I’m done.  He totes up my score and comes out to log me off the system. “Do you like math?”

“Sort of. Did I do okay?”

“You did much better than okay.”

I clicked my way right into any math class I’ll need to take at DC Cubed. So I grab my scores, head back down the hallway, look for Nick the Headless Horseman, get back into the elevator and hit the button for the first floor. The door opens and I’m in the basement in a construction area.

“Shit.”

Remember what I said about the second floor?

I go back up and follow the bread crumbs to the orientation room. I talk to an advisor, make a double pinky swear that my transcripts are on their way and register for my class.

I am all in and I’m on my way.

Next time I’m there, I’ll have to remember to look for the Fat Lady.

“It’s Too Darn Hot”

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Ick.

I am not a fan of summer.

I know I’m supposed to love it, because everyone keeps telling me so. Starting right after Valentine’s Day, the stores start putting out beach chairs and tiki torches and charcoal briquettes and every woman’s magazine is telling me how to lose those annoying last five pounds or  how to have perfect beach nails or how to look “perfectly boho” when I go to Coachella or Glastonbury, which I have absolutely no intention of doing.

Honestly? All I really want to rock when it’s 95° outside is my air conditioning.

So I play along with the gag for a while. I pull out my shorts and my tank tops and shave my legs a little more often. I wear my Birkies without the socks and put the handknits away for a few months. I look at sundresses and strappy sandals and wonder if I really need to buy a bathing suit or finally invest in a pair of prescription sunglasses. I look at recipes for summer salads and smoothies.

And then, right around this time of the summer, I stop doing it. All of it.

I quit lusting after long, flowing dresses I’ll never wear and sandals that look like trouble. I get sick of calling salads dinner. I start hating my shorts, shaving every day, the hum the air conditioner makes. I look at my French terry knit shirts and comfy house socks and yoga pants and whisper, “We’ll be together again, real soon. I promise.”

I pull out the cookbooks and drool over bean soups and stews with red wine and root vegetables. I start to crave apple raisin cake. I want to plan my Sundays around football. I want to be cozy.

Nom nom nom.

And while I will never, ever, turn down a perfect white nectarine or Brandywine tomato, I’m too much of an experienced cook to understand that things that are eaten in season always, always taste better to me. I found this recipe in a very, very funny book about gardening and it’s the highest use for those beautiful tomatoes and basil. Add a cucumber salad, some bread and fresh peaches for dessert and hey, it’s dinner time.

One thing, though; this recipe says it serves four, but I think you can easily serve six. I don’t know how this is on the second day, but I plan on just zapping it in the microwave just long enough to warm it up and adding a bit more olive oil, Romano, salt and pepper.

I’m still ready for the butternut squash, though.


Caprese Pasta

  • 30 (more or less) fresh basil leaves, washed
  • 1 pound of medium-sized shells or other pasta (the Barilla medium shells were perfect for this)
  • About 2 pounds of absolutely ripe, fresh tomatoes
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp fresh chopped Italian parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Get a big pot of water up to boil for the pasta.
  2. Slice each tomato around its equator and stick your finger into the little chambers and get the seeds out. You don’t have to get all of them. And be gentle.
  3. Chop them into medium-sized chunks and put them in a colander for a few minutes to get the excess liquid out of them. Put them in a large bowl. Chop the basil and the parsley and add them to the tomatoes.
  4. Peel and smash a clove of garlic (keep it as whole as you can). Heat up the olive oil in a small pan and add the garlic. Saute it for a few minutes; don’t let the garlic brown. Take the garlic out and add the garlic oil to the tomatoes.
  5. Chop the mozzarella into 1/2″ dice, or do what I did. I got a 1/2 lb. container of fresh mozz in “perline” size, and I didn’t have to do any chopping. Grate the Romano.
  6. Cook the pasta until it’s done. When it’s almost done, add a generous pinch of salt and a good grind of pepper to the tomatoes. Give it a good stir.
  7. Drain the pasta, but don’t rinse it. Put it back in the pot, add the tomatoes, the mozz and half the Romano. Give it a good stir and put the lid back on. Let it sit for about 5 minutes so the mozz starts to melt. Spoon it into bowls, sprinkle with the rest of the Romano (or more if you want). Eat.
  8. Enjoy!

“She Puts The Sun And Rain In With Her Green Beans”

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It’s hot.

I know. It’s late July and it’s steamy and icky. It’s Philadelphia in July and this is how it is. I’m dreaming of fall while the air conditioning is cranked up to high.

Part of the farmer's market haul.

Part of the farmer’s market haul.

Time to not get all hot and bothered with cooking. There’s macaroni salad left over from last night and since there’s shrimp in the freezer, peel-and-eat shrimp sounds really good. Heirloom tomato salad? Check. And peach, nectarine and blueberry cobbler from yesterday for dessert. With vanilla ice cream, of course.

And honey mustard green bean salad. I bought a pound of beautiful green beans at the farmer’s market yesterday and in the dog days of summer, this is the highest use for them. You can make the dressing while the beans cook and the whole recipe takes no time at all to put together. Then it goes in the fridge, happily, for a couple of days. This makes a whole pound of salad, but the longer it sits, the better it gets.

Yum.

Yum.


Honey Mustard Green Bean Salad (from “Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special”)

  • 8 cups of water
  • 1 tsp. of salt
  • 1 lb. of green beans
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil (I use sunflower)
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Combine the water and the salt in a large saucepan. Bring it to a boil.
  2. Add the green beans and cook until they’re the way you like them. I like these on the softer side of done.
  3. Whisk togeter the lemon juice, oil, honey and mustard in a large bowl.
  4. When the beans are done, drain them. Do not run cold water over them; they’ll absorb the dressing better if they’re still warm. Add them to the bowl with the dressing.
  5. Give them a good toss and add salt and pepper to taste. You’re done.
  6. You can serve these warm, at room temp or cold. I’ve never monkeyed around with the recipe, but slivers of roasted red peppers might be really good. Fresh basil would probably work, too. Hmm.
  7. Enjoy!

The Road Goes On Forever and The Party Never Ends

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Because just when you think you’ve had enough and the drama’s all over, it really isn’t.

The clinical trial I was in for my cancer treatment requires that all participants take a hearing test to see if the chemo’s done any hearing damage. I’ve known for years that my left ear’s a bit wonky. I’ve had tinnitus for ages and it’s always felt a bit “full” and “muffled”. The test they did after the surgery and before my treatment showed that yeah, I’m not hearing a lot of midrange tones and I’m a great candidate for a little hearing aid in the future (what did you say?). As it turned out, the “arm” of the study I randomized into didn’t have the chemo that causes hearing loss (speak up!), but the study protocol says everyone still has to get tested after the chemo is done, so I went off to the audiologist and otolaryngologist a few weeks back for their post-treatment poke and prod.

My hearing hasn’t changed (which is good), but it’s only on one side, which isn’t so good. That’s a sign of something called an acoustic neuroma, which is worse than it sounds. They’re “mostly harmless”, but she wanted to get a better look so I skipped off to have an MRI.

By the way, any normal human being would have been screaming uncontrollably by now, but I am not a normal human being, which is something you’ve probably suspected for a long, long time.

So I get the MRI (the person who invents a silent MRI will make a fortune) and they send the results to the otolaryng…the ear, nose and throat lady and my primary care physician, who calls me a few days later with the results.

I have an aneurysm. An unruptured, berry aneurysm somewhere in my brain.

I don’t have any symptoms. No nausea, sentinel headaches, blurred vision, weakness, nothing. I don’t know how large it is, but there’s a real good possibility I’ve had this for ages. Decades, maybe. Who knows?

So, I called the neurosurgeon my primary recommended and I have an appointment with him on the 21st. There are a couple of things they can do. If it’s really tiny, they can just watch it. If it needs to be dealt with, they can either do a little brain surgery (no kidding) and put a clip around it or they can do something similar to an angioplasty and put a spring in it. Either procedure isn’t all that awful (compared to what I’ve been through, nothing really is) and is much preferable to the alternative.

In the meantime, there’s not much I can do. I could scream and cry and wail “Why me?”, but that’s not going to be very helpful. And neither is constantly Googling “berry aneurysm” since most of the clinical descriptions and treatments are the same. So I’ll get up in the morning and plan my life with P and get ready to take my class in September and work and knit and teach until I hear otherwise.

And I hope the Phillies start playing better, or they’re going to give me an aneurysm.

Oh.

Onward.

singlecandlepeanutscartoon

I love a Blueberry. I hug a Blueberry. I love a Blueberry.

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A couple of summers ago the BF and I were living in the southern half of New Jersey (that’s “South Jersey” in the proper Philadelphia vernacular) and it was one of those summers that started right after Easter and ran through the first few weeks of football season. It was ridiculously, crazy hot for about four months.

And everyone’s garden was loving it. When it got so humid that the air couldn’t hold any more water, it teemed down like you’ve never seen it rain before. South Jersey became a rainforest that summer.

I came home one day to find a big, long, striped green…something…on the steps.  It was the largest zucchini I’d ever seen and I grew up with an Italian stepfather who used to grow cucuzza

Why you callin' a googotz, huh?

Why you callin’ a googotz, huh?

(“googoots” in Calabrian vernacular) in our side garden. This monster was over a foot long and nine inches around (yes, I did measure it) and quite frankly, I was a little scared of it.

I’d just been zucchinied. A hit-and-run, no less.

There isn’t much you can do with a summer squash that big, you know. The skin’s usually too tough to eat and there’s a ton of seeds. And on top of that, they’re usually bitter and woody, so my idea for making soup or a huge pot of ratatouille went right out the window.

Which is exactly what I was ready to do with this beast, but I really hate waste. And since our landlord was the person who gave it to us…well, I really couldn’t put it back outside for the raccoons. So I peeled and seeded and grated and made two loaves of really terrific zucchini bread. I was appalled at the full cup of oil and don’t-ask-don’t-tell amount of sugar that went into it, but it was really good with a schmear of cream cheese.

Dig in!

Dig in!

A couple of weeks later, I found myself with a bit of a blueberry glut and decided to try a recipe I’d seen in one of my cookbooks for blueberry lemon bread. One of the things I remembered liking about the recipe was that there wasn’t a huge amount of fat or sugar in it when compared to that zucchini cake…er, bread…that I made. Throw in the fact that it looked simple to make and I was pretty much sold.

I subbed out the white flour called for in the recipe with whole wheat pastry flour; it’s an 1:1 substitution, so you can go either way with it. White flour will give you a tenderer crumb while the pastry flour gives it just a touch more heft, which I like. Either way, this will keep for a couple of days, but it’s really at it’s best if you eat it within a day or two of baking it.


Blueberry Cornmeal Bread

  • Oil/butter/cooking spray for the baking pan
  • 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat pastry flour (or unbleached white flour)
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp mild oil (I used sunflower)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp buttermilk
  • Finely grated rind of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup blueberries, picked over and rinsed
  • 2 to 4 Tbsp walnuts, toasted and chopped
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats (also called “old-fashioned”, but not “instant”)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease an 8″x 4″ loaf pan.
  2. Put the flour, baking powder and soda together into a large bowl. Add the cornmeal, sugar and salt and run a whisk through it to remove the lumps. Yes, you can sift it, but this is quicker and easier.
  3. In a second bowl, beat together the oil, eggs, buttermilk and lemon rind until well combined.
  4. Combine the blueberries, walnuts if you’re using them, and rolled oats in a third bowl and sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the flour-cornmeal mixture over them. Gently stir to combine.
  5. l stir the egg mixture into the flour-cornmeal mixture, using as few strokes as possible. Gently stir in the blueberry mixture The batter should be stiff.
  6. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, turning the pan around about 30 minutes in so the top browns evenly. If it’s starting to get too dark, cover the top very lightly with foil.
  7. Let the baked bread cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then run a knife aournd the edge of the pan and turn it out onto a rack.
  8. Enjoy!