Saturday, September 16, 2017

Quocunque jeceris stabit

Since last we spoke I have been some places and seen some shit, man, and by "shit" I mean horse plops. You are so excited to read this update now.

P and I flew out of Austin at the tail end of Harvey, leaving our adult children here with the wind and the rain and the panic-induced gas shortage (there are a few things I've done as a parent for which I may never completely forgive myself and I've tucked this trip away into a tiny little corner of that space). We were in Dublin for five days and the only touristy thing I did that I'd done before was Trinity College and the long room in the old library because come on, if I'm in Dublin I'm going there, you can bet money on that. I am going to sit in that room for an entire hour, and during that hour there may come a point at which you wonder if I am okay, and the truth is that I'm SO VERY OK that I appear not at all okay, and it's fine. Just leave me to it. I'm inhaling the aroma and soaking in the filtered light and trying to pretend I'm alone in there, just me and the books and the busts and that incredible ceiling.

Apart from also visiting the National Museum of Archaeology (which is FANTASTIC) and getting lost in Temple Bar (WHO DESIGNED THESE STREETS?) I mostly stayed south of the canal this trip, stomping around Rathmines and Ballsbridge and Ranelagh, visiting little shops and parks and gardens and admiring the gorgeous ironwork fences and the view of the Wicklow Mountains and the chimneys of Upper Leeson from our hotel room window.

Just like last year, we were in Dublin this time for an industry conference that P attends (he was presenting this year), and we learned this trip that next year the conference will move to Dusseldorf, and I am sad because that likely means this was our last trip to Dublin for a very long while, and I LIKE DUBLIN. I like all of Ireland, actually. I understand Ireland, nothing there feels strange to me. If I have a home away from the US, Ireland is it. South Dublin is it. I will miss it so much.

After Dublin we hopped a little propeller plane for the Isle of Man and OH YOU GUYS. If you ever get the chance to visit the Isle of Man. DO IT. Do not hesitate, not even for a second. It's 30 minutes by air from Dublin or Manchester. It is by far the most beautiful place I've ever been, ever ever ever, with by far the nicest people I've ever met in my entire life. We stayed right on the Central Promenade in Douglas and only saw a fraction of the island, from Port Erin up the southeast coast and then north to Laxey and Snaefell, but holy criminy was it amazing and gorgeous and just ... wow. Just wow. Go there. You will not regret it.

The weather was gorgeous our first day on the island but the second day there, which was at the halfway point of our entire trip, it turned wet and grey and chilly and windy and I kind of hit a wall that day from which I never recovered. I have about seven days in me, vacation-wise. Ten if sun and sand and slushy drinks are involved. But this was a fifteen-day trip, you guys. That is too long for me. I am a delicate fucking flower; I can't go that long without my food and my kids and my bed and my Texas weather.

After three days of Manx shenanigans we headed to England, specifically to Cheshire, more specifically to a little town called Lymm that lies on the Bridgewater Canal between Manchester and Liverpool. We were there for a week and the weather stayed awful and my mood stayed awful but holy shit was it gorgeous there. We were there specifically to do some genealogical research on P's side but I did not expect to fall in love with this little town, with its footpaths and deep dark woods and gorgeous meadows (full of horse plops, but also flowers! and berry bushes! and apple trees! and chestnuts! it was so pretty!).

We were in England for another five days and then we flew home sweet home just as Irma was roaring through Florida. Whatever else happens, I am home now. I have my kids and my dog and my bed and my house and my warm sunshine. It's so good to be home.

But you know what? The UK is fabulous. We didn't have a bad meal the whole time we were there, not one. The people we met were without exception friendly and kind and incredibly patient with us, even the old sexist, racist anti-Semites (that was all one guy; his name was George). Everywhere we went was gorgeous. EVERYWHERE. So green, so many trees and flowers, so many dog owners, such beautiful waterways. Dublin is super fucking expensive but the Isle of Man and Cheshire are dirt cheap in comparison re: meals and lodging and transportation. They have Strongbow Dark Fruit cider on tap everywhere, which we can't even GET here in the US, so unfair.

It was an amazing trip and I'm glad it's over and yeah. Let's do fall now. I'm super ready for fall.

Thursday, July 20, 2017


It tastes better than it looks, sweartoGod.

Okay so here is the thing: when bell peppers first came into season here a couple of months ago, I started craving old-school stuffed peppers like MAD. You know, the ones your mom used to make back in the '70s, with the meat and the rice and the tomato sauce? OMG SO GOOD. Pure comfort food.

So I made them and P and C loved them and then they started wanting them every week and then I realized that these things are kind of a pain in the ass, what with parboiling the peppers and then stuffing them and arranging them in the baking dish and yeah. No wonder my mom didn't make them very often.

SO! I got lazy and came up with a casserole version. Basically it involves chopping the peppers and adding them to the filling instead of stuffing them. I probably didn't invent this, but whatever, my version only has five ingredients and it's super easy and you can customize the hell out of it based on how you and your family like to eat. And it makes a ton and is great for potlucks! And it freezes really well in case you're pregnant or have surgery coming up or whatever! Yay!

The recipe below is exactly how I make it, but scroll down for some ideas re: making it vegan or paleo/low-carb or whatever, if you're into that.

5-Ingredient Stuffed Pepper Casserole

2 lbs. ground meat (we like half ground pastured pork, half bulk pastured pork sausage)
4-6 large green bell peppers, chopped into large-ish pieces
2-4 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups cooked jasmine rice (made from 1 cup uncooked rice)
2 15-oz. cans tomato sauce (we like Muir Glen Organic)

Cook meat in a giant skillet over medium-high heat just until no longer pink, then add chopped green peppers and minced garlic cloves and continue cooking, stirring frequently. Once the peppers are crisp-tender and the meat has browned a bit, remove from heat and mix in cooked rice and 1.5 cans of tomato sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a large casserole dish or 9x13" pan and spread the rest of the tomato sauce on top. Bake covered for 45 minutes at 350 degrees F, then uncover and continue baking for another 10 minutes or so. Remove from oven and serve.


You can use whatever ground meat you want in this. Chicken, beef, turkey, lamb, venison, elk, pork, sausage, whatever, it'll all work. You just might need to add a little extra olive oil to the pan if you're using a really lean meat.

Not into meat? I haven't tried it, but I would imagine you could substitute 3-4 cups of cooked or canned legumes (lentils, black beans, etc.). Just saute the peppers and garlic in a little olive oil, remove from heat, and add the beans at the same time as the rice and tomato sauce. I don't think tofu would work, but maybe TVP? Seitan? Those Morningstar Farms crumbles? I don't know, man. Try it and report back.

I haven't tried this either but I'm 98% sure that you could substitute riced cauliflower or riced sweet potatoes for the actual rice. If you're using raw, I'd add it to the pan with the peppers and garlic so it gets a little pre-cook in. If you're using already cooked riced veggies (like those Green Giant frozen ones), I'd drain them really well, squeeze out as much moisture as you can, and add them when you'd normally add the rice.

Feel free to throw some chopped onion in there. C is allergic to onions so I leave them out. Also, you could throw some corn in there. Or some fancier peppers. Or meat AND beans. Or some raisins and cinnamon. I mean, however you like your stuffed peppers, just make that but chop and saute the peppers instead of stuffing them. You know? IT'S EASY.

I'm thinking there's got to be a way to adapt this for the slow-cooker, too. Just haven't quite figured it out yet.

Anyway, enjoy! If you try it and like it, let me know! If you try it and hate it, keep that shit to yourself. (Kidding! I'm kidding!)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

In Prague I knew I'd been a witch

Oh, hi. Remember back in May when I said I wasn't doing Facebook much anymore and I hoped it would lead to more writing over here? Those were more innocent times, weren't they?

Yeah. Hello. I have no idea what I've been doing for the past couple of months. But the photographic evidence suggests I've been hanging out in hospital emergency rooms (I wasn't the patient, and everything is fine, and that's all I'm gonna say about that), and I've been buying flowers at the farmer's market, and cooking some stuff, and buying a new chair for my office, and killing yet more plants, and knitting a whole hell of a lot.

AND ... planning another trip to Dublin, with additional stops on the Isle of Man and in Cheshire, UK. I know! Exciting! That's all happening at the end of August/beginning of September and I'm super freaking out over it.

See, my people aren't really travelers. Growing up, I think I got the idea that, much like sleep-away camp, it wasn't something on which working-class people spent their money. I didn't know a single kid growing up who went to sleep-away camp, not until we moved to Texas. The kids I knew all spent their summers the same way I did: running around our blue-collar suburban neighborhood engaging in casual misdemeanors. And I never knew anyone who traveled internationally unless it was across the border by car into Canada or Mexico, or unless it was a military thing.

It's so weird to me that this is a thing I get to do now, that my kids are adults and my parents are still in relatively good health and I can just do this, leave the country for a couple of weeks. Go to a completely other country. I know for some of you this is a typical Thursday or whatever, but for me it's just SO weird. I'm like a little kid with this. Wow! I get to go to Dublin AGAIN! And I get to go to the Isle of Man, who's done that?! (Wait, have any of you done that? Tell me everything!) I get to go to England, where I've never been, and stay in a little inn near Manchester and stomp up and down the canals and drink cider. CAN. NOT. WAIT!

So yeah. Wow. What a summer, eh? H moved into an apartment with friends and got a promotion at work and is doing so great with the adulting, I am SO SUPER PROUD of that kid. C is thisclose to getting his driver's license and did great in his summer class and has been making tons of new amazing music and has a new job, maybe? (I feel very first-trimester about the whole job thing right now, so please just keep your fingers crossed, okay?) So super proud of that kid, too. P is busy getting ready for the conference that is the whole reason we get to go to Dublin again in the first place. And I'm just obsessively googling "minimalist travel wardrobe" and drinking matcha lattes and stress-eating way too much guacamole. Oy.

Actually, that's a lie. I've been reading books! I know! I only have good books to recommend to you anymore, because if a book isn't good within the first couple of chapters I just delete it from my Kindle and move on with my life (and eat more guacamole). This may or may not have anything to do with the fact that I have upwards of 500 books loaded onto my Kindle and that I'll likely only live long enough to read 426 of them. You know, if I'm lucky. And don't get ritually sacrificed to Manannan for trying to use euro in Douglas in a couple of months.

But yeah! The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy: excellent. Required reading if you read and liked Harold Fry. Daniel O'Malley's Stiletto, the sequel to The Rook: excellent. Tig Notaro's I'm Just a Person: excellent. Code Name Verity: excellent! I liked Maria Semple's Today Will Be Different VERY much, apparently much more than a lot of other people did.

Right now I'm reading Captain William R. Anderson's The Ice Diaries, about the first nuclear submarine and its Cold War mission to explore the Arctic Ocean while completely submerged under polar ice (all covert-like). You wouldn't think that would be my kind of thing, but (a) I love true stories about Arctic and Antarctic exploration for some damn reason, and (b) my father-in-law was a career Navy officer and navigator and both of P's brothers served in the Navy aboard nuclear subs. Mostly this book is making me miss my father-in-law because I think he would have LOVED it and I'm sad that I can't buy him a copy.

Anyway. That's what's going on around here. We'll have to talk about TV another time (OMG GAME OF THRONES BROADCHURCH CLAWS WRECKED YAY).

Saturday, May 27, 2017

It was 20 years ago today

This is a true story.

May 27, 1997. I am standing in my house with my dog, looking out the back window, watching the low, heavy clouds over my backyard coalesce into a swirl. A shaggy funnel dips down and back up, down and back up, over and over. My hand is on the dog's collar. We have no basement.

I stare out the window for a full five minutes after the last funnel sign, then I call my mother, who is watching my one-year-old son at her house ten miles away. We are moving to an interior room, she tells me. We'll get into the bathtub.

I walk out the front door of my house, locking it behind me with the dog inside. I worry whether she and it will be here when I get back. On my way to the car I meet a neighbor coming home who tells me I'm crazy. She tells me to get back inside. I tell her I can't. I tell her I have an appointment.

As I'm driving east, I look to the north and see a fully formed funnel cloud skipping over the horizon. I can't tell how far away it is. It doesn't look real. It looks like a cartoon. It's early afternoon but the sky is black as night. My hands tighten on the wheel.

I pull into the parking lot of a building that is made entirely of glass. Every wall is a black window, three stories up. Black windows against a black sky. The air is still as I get out of my car. There is no birdsong, but there's a distant howl. A sound of rushing.

I walk inside. I make my way down a glass-fronted hallway in this building made of glass and turn a handle, but the door is locked. I can see there are people inside, so I knock. A woman hurries over.

What are you doing here, she says. We're all going home, she says. Have you looked outside, she says.

I say No.
I say Listen.

I have been bleeding through my entire first trimester. I have hyperemesis so severe that I have to take Phenergan suppositories just to keep down water, much less food or prenatal vitamins. I have read the books and I'm pretty sure this is a molar pregnancy, an ectopic pregnancy, twins, dead twins. I have an appointment today, right now, to hear the heartbeat for the first time. I'm going to hear that heartbeat.

The truth is I only said some of those things. The truth is that being taken out in a shower of glass and rebar was the least of my concerns right then.

I say Please.

She takes me back to a room. The exterior wall is glass. I lay on the paper-lined table and turn my head to the right. I watch the still air outside give way to shrieking gusts as I pull my top up to my bra and slide my pants below my hipbones. She tucks paper into my waistband and squirts cold jelly just above my pubic bone. Stunted trees whip in a frenzy outside the wall-window as she slides the wand across my abdomen and after an eternity during which I'm sure my house and dog and son and mother are obliterated by an angry or worse apathetic god I hear it: lublublublublublub. Faster than fast. A herd of frothing horses.

That's a good, strong heartbeat, she says.
Be careful out there, she says.

I say Thank You.
I say You Too.

I rush to my car. I drive home in a downpour so thick I can't see beyond my windshield. If there are funnel clouds to my north, ich kenn ihnen nicht. If there are funnel clouds to my north, I can't worry about them now. I am carrying a baby with a good, strong heartbeat. I am carrying an alive baby.

The 3.4 miles between the hospital and my house take thirty minutes.
My house, which is still standing.
My house, with my alive dog inside.

I call my alive mother. Later, she will bring my alive son home. Later, I will insert a Phenergan suppository and take a prenatal vitamin and try very hard keep them both inside.

Six months and two days later, I will look into the face of my beautiful alive H for the very first time.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum

We are on the downhill slope of my second-least-favorite season and the weather has been damp and ooky and my mold allergies are killing me and apparently this happens every year in May, which probably means I've complained about it every year in May, so let this be a lesson to you: don't live in the past, you guys. It deprives you of the pleasure of complaining in the present.

Things that have been happening around these parts:

  • In February I replaced my ancient clock radio with a clock that is not a radio, so I bought a cheap battery radio and I'm a little embarrassed by how much I've been enjoying it. I have satellite radio in my car and I've been listening to streaming playlists pretty exclusively when NOT in my car for a number of years now and hey, radio is a thing that still exists and that makes me happy. Also there are no Tejano stations in my XM subscription, but there are like 47 of them just on the FM band alone. So yay.
  • In March we stripped C's room down to the studs and completely re-did it in a fit of "you're an adult now and your outer environment reflects your inner environment and vice-versa" and I'm not sure it changed anything for him in any substantial way, but it was a badly needed clearout so we're counting it a win.
  • In April C turned 21 and P turned 52 and I did something weird to my foot that required (inconclusive) x-rays and crutches but got completely better on its own after a couple of weeks, so April was kind of exhausting. Also in April my hair finally became long enough for a ponytail, and I cast on for a Berroco Vine in Madelinetosh.
  • So far in May: I got a new grill for Mother's Day (yay!), I removed the Facebook app from my phone (best decision EVER), and daughter H moved out of my house and into an apartment with some friends (OMG). She's only about five minutes away, so close and yet so far. Also in May son C got his learner's permit for driving a car (he already has a full-blown motorcycle license) and I don't have a photo of the used car P bought him earlier this year (2010 convertible VW bug because he needs to feel the wind in his hair, man) but yeah, he's learning to drive a car now. So that's happening. Maybe the room remodel DID work.
I have been reading lots of really good books and I have accomplished this by discarding books that aren't excellent within the first 100 pages or so. In the fiction realm I can recommend without reservation Erika Swyler's The Book of Speculation (especially if you liked The Night Circus), Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible (can you believe I'd never read it?), Paulette Jiles's News of the World (excellent), Emily Bitto's The Strays (fascinating), and Rachel Joyce's The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (which was not at all what I was expecting, in a good way). 

In the non-fiction genre, I loved Mychal Denzel Smith's Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching, Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy, Scott B. Christmas's Washington's Nightmare: A Brief History of American Political Parties, Saroo Brierley's Lion, and Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Right now I'm re-reading The Handmaid's Tale for the first time in decades (I don't have a Hulu subscription so I'm not watching it, but the movie with Natasha Richardson and Faye Dunaway is seared into my mind). Next up? Probably Joyce's The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy. Which normally I wouldn't go near based on the title alone because I'm such a fucking elitist, but it's a companion volume to Harold Fry and now I kind of need to know.

Pursuant to the article above re: Facebook, I'm hoping my abandonment of that medium will encourage me to write more often in this particular medium, so we'll see what happens. Meanwhile I most definitely am not abandoning Twitter or Instagram; you can find me there at @saltycrunchy for my personal accounts (my personal Instagram is private so if I don't know who you are, I'm afraid you're out of luck there) or @kmshealthcoach for my professional accounts (which are public AF, as the kids say). 

Any and all food blogging type stuff is now happening on my professional Instagram account, if that tempts you at all. If foul-mouthed liberal rantings are more your thing, I recommend my personal Twitter (which is public). Or, you know, check back here occasionally. There's bound to be all SORTS of foul-mouthed liberal ranting in the weeks and months to come.