What I Learned This Week: #230

Monday, February 14 – Sunday, February 20, 2022

The Week in Dining: I had a weird dining experience at Khora this week. I’m a big fan of the food they serve which focuses on very good ingredients often prepared in unexpected ways. The food is pricey, but worth it, especially combined with the laid back, friendly staff.

This week a me and friend immensely enjoyed the starters to the evening, a really nice beef tartare, and a burnt carrot salad. Both were outstanding. Then came the pasta dishes. The Bucatini pasta with cannellini beans and chorizo jam was, as expected, was delicious, packed with flavor and tossed in a brothy sauce. The Rigatoni, however, was one of the worst dishes I’ve ever had out at a nice restaurant. They dish was dry, bland, and worst, the rigatoni wasn’t cooked through. It wasn’t al dente, it was raw. We couldn’t eat it. When the waitress came to clear our plates, we told her our pasta issue. She seemed more surprised than concerned, but said she would take it off the bill.

Then two things happened in quick succession. We realized she didn’t take anything off the bill, not even the dessert, and we decided we would pay anyway. I’ve spent the week trying to figure out why neither of us spoke up and I think we’re just tired of fusses and don’t want to be involved in any, even if they are legitimate. Anyway, the type of mistakes Khora made, both in service and cooking, suggest they won’t be in business that much longer. And that’s a shame.

The Week in the Gurgle: A good chunk of my work team was out on Thursday with what they all classified as a stomach flu. Once we had clarified that it wasn’t COVID I spent the rest of the day wondering how this illness missed me. And then, around 4, my stomach gurgled. I’m old and my stomach makes all kinds of noises, but this gurgle got my attention. Worthy of preventative measures or not, I went home, ate chicken soup, bundled up and slept through the night. Woke up fine and gurgle free.

The Week in Cheap Pockets: Lured by the promise of 50% off sale items, I clicked on an email for Avalanche Clothing. I do not need clothes and don’t (generally) buy things just to buy them, but then I saw the picture of the two piece pajama set and the pants had pockets. Pockets in women’s pajama bottoms is unnervingly rare for a pocket lover like myself, yet there I was, staring at the holy grail of pjs. I clicked and bought. I don’t know if it was a good deal, but it makes me happy.

The Week in Kettles: For the past several months I’ve really been into hot tea. There’s a local tea shop that has interesting flavors. A tea made with hot peppers has been fun to drink on cold nights, and they keep me supplied with my traditional Early Grey and single estate Assam. While I enjoy the tea, I know I’m missing the rituals of tea drinking, most significantly in how I boil water. I do it in a sauce pan. It works fine, obviously, but I decided I needed an electric kettle.

I wanted to try an inexpensive one to see if I liked it. People at work told me they swear by their $20 kettles from Walgreens and Walmart so when I bought a cheap one at TJ Maxx I thought I was set. I turned it on and could hear it doing its thing and then I walked away (I live in a small place, so I was not far). When I next put my eye on the kettle, expecting it to have auto-shut off, it was shaking violently on the counter. Holy Cow. I unplugged it and felt like a superhero saving the world. (When you live by yourself you can overestimate your actions as much as you want.) Undeterred, I bought a second kettle for the bargain price of $16 and so far, so good. I feel like a much classier tea drinker.

The Week in Genevar: I’m reading an old-fashioned crime novel, The Snow Leopard by Sigmund Miller. It takes place in the late 1950’s in Amsterdam and in one of the scenes the main character orders Genevar. I did not know this drink so a made a special trip to Japp’s bar to get educated. I read the name of the drink from the book, completely butchering the pronunciation, but they knew what I was talking about and, the actually had a bottle of it on the shelf! Genevar is a Dutch Gin made with rye, malted barley or corn, like whiskey, but it’s clear and it’s essential flavor is juniper and other spices. They poured me a taste. I found it more like fernet than gin, but I kind of liked it.

I also like ordering drinks that the characters in the books I’m reading order. The last time was a 1940’s Philip Marlowe detective novel. He and I both order gimlets while we were together through the mystery.

What I Learned This Week: #229

Monday, February 7 –

(Super Bowl) Sunday, February 13, 2021

The Week in Broadway: The second of my Broadway Across America shows rolled into town this week, the classic My Fair Lady. Despite the excellence of the music, I was hesitant to see the show because of the wildly out of date sexism in the way Professor Higgins treats Eliza Doolittle. Still, it was written in a different time and for a different audience, so I was going to roll with it.

I was very pleased that, with very minor tweaking, this version of the show becomes a story about Eliza as she overcomes her circumstances to become a very capable women. Higgins and Eliza are closer in age in this production than the somewhat gross age difference between Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn in the movie. The relationship between the two in this show is more like George Bernard Shaw intended in the source play Pygmalion, and the result seems very modern. The cast was also energetic, something I don’t always see in the traveling shows, and the audience, a near full house on a Wednesday night, was highly appreciative. When Freddy finished singing “The Street Where You Live,” and as the audience was applauding, the lady behind me gushed, “I just love that song.” It’s one of several great ones and playing Eliza as a strong character should keep this show around for a long time to come.

The Week in Pre-Gaming – Apparel: The week before the Super Bowl was the most Orange and Black I have ever seen. People pulled out their old gear and went nuts buying new stuff. I walked into a sporting good store and they had pushed all the other team merchandise out of the way to make room from Bengals items. The store was packed. The checkout line was long, and, on the Saturday before the game, the racks were getting rather bare. Around town, shoppers could find an array of non-NFL sanctioned items as plenty of empty parking lots around the city and suburbs became homes to pop up tents loaded with knock off merch. I bought a Joe Burrow scarf from a random guy on the corner standing with an armload of them. It’s a good scarf!

The Week in Pre-Gaming – Mood: Besides dressing up, we all got very, very happy. Despite all the weirdness of our world and the blah mood we’ve been under for 2 years, this week Cincinnati perked up. As I walked home on Saturday night, downtown was busier than usual for a cold, Covid-era night. The streets were filled with groups of people shouting Who Dey at each other. It was magical.

To add to general atmosphere, several buildings around town bathed their buildings in orange light. From Union Terminal and TQL stadium to the north, down to the Courthouse, the Great American Insurance building, and the Proctor & Gamble towers all showed their team support.

Phone picture does not do the orange lighting justice.

The Week in Pre-Gaming – Shit Show: On game day, downtown was astir earlier than normal and the bars were already mostly full by 3 pm (for the 6:30 game). I took a walk around thinking I could grab a beer at one of my local favorites, but they were all full and they were full with people I didn’t know. A whole bunch of non-regulars had appeared and were ready to party. Around 4 I walked though the Banks area where the City had set up a few screens for an outdoor watch party. That place was packed with lines to get in the bars (bars that no one was leaving). There didn’t seem to be enough food trucks or beer vendors for the size of the crowd and I was very happy that I had a friend’s house to watch the game at in comfort.

The Week in the Super Bowl: And finally, the game. My Bengals lost, but they gave us the best season and the best run up to a game we’ve had in a long time. They gave us the greatest week to be a Cincinnatian, as if we needed an excuse. This town and our extended Cincinnati fans know what’s up. Plus, we’ve all got new gear! Who Dey in 2023!!!

What I Learned This Week: #228

Monday, January 24 – Sunday, February 6, 2022

Two weeks…the weather and the Bengals are throwing me off. I don’t mind the weather, and I’m loving the post-season Bengals run, but my routine, oy, it’s out the door.

The Week in All the Weather: Two weather invents make the minutiae news this week. The first was a 3 inch snow storm which was predicted as a light dusting. As it continued to snow all day, the prediction was that the snow would stop “soon.” They clearly meant “eventually.”

That was a small time event compared to the second storm a couple days ago that started shyly with a warm day of rain. That warmth and rain gave way to an ice storm before settling into snow event. It isn’t often that I check my phone app to see it is both 60 degrees and sunny with a winter storm watch on the horizon. That’s a lot of weather. My office was closed for two full days, as was most of downtown. Finally, on late Friday afternoon, a couple places were able to open for business. With a layer of ice under the snow, walking was a bit treacherous. Still, loved the chance to get out the winter gear and drink with neighborhood friends! By Sunday the sun returned with temps in the high 30’s. Except for the snow mountains in parking lots, it’ll all be a memory by mid-week.

All the weather

The Week in Sportsball: When you live in a small-ish city and your team is going to the Super Bowl, even people who don’t care one iota about sports become vaguely aware that something big is happening. The Bengals won the AFC championship and I gotta tell you, it seems to me that the town is seconds away from a big effusive, football-themed, city-wide Bollywood style dance routine. My co-worker, who watches zero sports gave me a “Go Bengals” salute before and after the win. (Truly, the salute is “who dey” not go Bengals, but I’m giving him 1,000% credit for making the attempt.) The local news ran a montage of people all over the country watching newly crowned local saint Evan McPherson kick the winning field goal. I teared up. (It was a beautiful montage.) Our Mayor is all over national media selling the city as the best one in America (he means it!) I can buy shirts, and cookies, and even Bengal striped pancakes for brunch. Cincinnati Public Schools have announced the day after the “Bengals Super Bowl Win” is a school holiday. The playoffs started with fans asking, “Why Not Us?” The Team picked up on that and they say, “It Is Us.” It is. And it’s blast.

The Week in Swiss Steak: I’ve been seeing cube steak at butcher shops the last couple of weeks and I decided to revisit a childhood recipe, Swiss Steak. My mom used either cube steak or round steak to make either a brown sauced mushroom dish, or a red tomato and onion dish. My Mom says she mostly used round steak, but she pounded it. I remember the pounding! Cube steak is a similar cut that the butcher tenderizes. We sometimes referred to the meat as minute steaks. They were cheap, and could be tough, but if cooked right, delicious and tender. Cooked right means a quick sauté, and a long braise in the oven.

I was surprised that I couldn’t find either the brown or red version in my recipe collection, but I settled on Alton Brown’s Swiss Steak because it looked familiar. It was. This last wave of the pandemic and the snow and the cold has made me a little nostalgic. I grabbed a nice bottle of wine from the local shop and snuggled up to a plate of Swiss Steak and rice. P.S. We would have eaten Minute Rice with our minute steak. I make “real” rice. Truly, nostalgia can only go so far. LOL!

The Week in Stock: It is a known fact among my friends, that I’m kind of a snob about chicken broth/stock. The two words are used pretty much interchangeably by home cooks, though technically, stock is made with bones and broth is made with meat and vegetables. I am usually talking stock but I almost always say broth. But what I’m really pushing is the idea that everyone should be making their own.

Anyone who has talked food with me for my than 5 minutes will hear me championing homemade chicken broth. I do so with the type of fervor you might find from someone whose parents were killed by a rogue can of store bought broth. I’m a zealot on this issue. I realize people are humoring me and I’m cool with that because every now and then, someone will make broth. And I know this, because they make sure they tell me about it. I love when people tell me they made their own broth. I like that they want to brag on themselves a little. Also, it’s great to give someone a positive experience from a distance. Cooking is love.

The Week in L’ Amour: I’ve always found a great source of great reading material to come from bartenders. Over the years, I’ve gotten several recommendations that have been terrific. My Braxton bartender recommended Last of the Breed by Louis L’ Amour, a book he said was one of his favorites because he and his Mom have read it, one of the few titles they have in common. I’ve not read any of the prolific author L’ Amour. He’s known for westerns, but in the early 80’s he wrote a cold war themed book that played on the main character’s American Indian heritage (so kind of a western?). I ordered the book used, and it was literally falling apart in my hands. That was the book’s only challenge. It’s a simple page-turner where America, and especially an American Indian, is superior. Fun.

This book will self destruct in …

What I Learned This Week: #227

Monday, January 17 – Sunday, January 23, 2022

The Week in Oysters: Oysters, and seafood in general here in the landlocked heart of the country is fine, just fine. Deep fried cod (and catfish) can be very good, of course, because batter and fry pretty much anything and you’ve got a culinary win. But freshly prepared seafood, especially seafood meant to be eaten rare or raw suffer greatly in the plane ride over. I try to treat myself to restaurants that spend money to get the freshest seafood possible to Cincinnati. They charge a premium, but man, sometimes I want a decent raw oyster.

A few months ago a new seafood based, and especially oyster forward restaurant, Pearlstar, opened on Vine St. Sadly, it replaced one of my favorite pizza, Italian nosh restaurants, but I must persevere and go forth. Pearlstar has a nice selection of oysters, at $3 each! They are the best oysters I’m currently finding in the city. I also had an open-faced shrimp sandwich accessorized with aioli, plenty of herbs, and a few potato chips for extra salt and texture. I liked it a lot. I’m glad to have a decent safety net for my serious seafood craving.

A Midwest Plethora of Oysters

The Week in Ear Ache My Eye (or, More Accurately, My Foot): The insurance company denied coverage for the name brand ear drops prescribed to to my Mom. The key word here is ‘ears’. The drops we had to settle for are branded to cure athletes foot, and, we found out while going over the directions, jock itch. I told her that her ears may not get better, but she might get the urge to go to the gym and shower with a bunch of beefy guys. She said she might consider that.

The Week in the Humble Bagel: A few times a year, I take my Mom to the good bagel store, Marx, where she buys a dozen or so to throw in the freezer. She eats them eat here and there for breakfast over several weeks. We went to Marx this week for one of her stock-ups and, for the first time in a long while I bought myself 5 bagels (one for breakfast for each workday.)

I have to confess that I did this because I had one brick of Philadelphia Cream Cheese left over from the holidays. I felt like a Queen eating breakfast all week casually schmearing on one of the hardest to find condiments of the holiday season. My favorites are pumpernickel, “everything”, and sunflower seed. It was a good and simple week for breakfast.

The Week in Bengals Fans: Those of use who haven’t seen a Bengals playoff win in 31 years, were pretty happy with last weeks win, but this week’s playoff win has unleashed a wave of astonishment. We. Can. Not. Believe. It. Many long time fans had to wake up on Sunday and recheck the 19-16 win over the Titans. We are stunned, amazed, and besides ourselves. Super fun!

The Week in Bengals Non-Fans: On my way into work Monday, there was a man in the lobby waiting for one of the offices to open. I couldn’t place his accent exactly, but somewhere in the middle East is my best guess. I asked if he was a Bengals fan and if he had watched the game. He smiled and said no, but, and he gestured to his head and then to his chest and said, “But all the people wear the hats and shirts.” He said he liked that. I laughed and told him a lot of that stuff hadn’t been worn in quite a while and it was nice to wear all of it for the home team.

What I Learned This Week: #226

Monday, January 10 – Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Week in Food, Drink, and Neighborhood Regulars: On Thursday, I had an unintended weeknight, downtown walkabout, working in a couple stops on my way home from work. First I popped into Mid-City for a Gin and Tonic and their tempura battered brussels sprouts. Mid-City’s menu is very small and it’s made up of small plates. Everything they make is delicious, but they are getting a reputation for their tempura batter, of all things. The batter is shatteringly crunchy and light and loud and they serve a tempura battered vegetable of the day. The small plate of brussels, with the aioli drizzle, made for an easy, relatively healthy light snack. Most nights, just that, and maybe a second cocktail, would qualify as a light dinner But Omicron made me not want to linger and I decided to head home. Taking the long way, something made me stop into Nicola’s before I called it a night.

I had planned to get a salad, but their eggplant parmesan roulade was too good to pass up. It’s a small serving, designed to go with other offerings on the menu, but it worked for me as a stand alone without making me feel like a stuffed pig after my surprise progressive dinner.

But just as good was running into one of the neighborhood bartenders I’d lost track of. Thomas is a good dude, last seen slinging beer at Braxton. I would pass him often on my nightly walks while he was out on his smoke breaks. I’ve got a book he recommended in my “to read” pile. As I finished my eggplant, he offered me an after dinner Orange-Chocolate-Cello liquor, a liquor he makes for the restaurant. The creamy drink served as my dessert for a more filling night of food than I’d planned. Lovely.

The Week in Bangs: I don’t care a lot about my hair. I can’t even see more than half of it. But what I do care about is my bangs. I see them, and I want them cut right. I had a stylist downtown for a few years who did the best job, but he moved to the suburbs. Since I try not to drive if I don’t have to, I decided I could find a decent haircut at a walkable salon. That might be true, but that was not the case at the salon I chose.

I’m no hairstylist (I don’t even own any hair products), but I do know the basics of what a hair stylist should do to properly cut bangs. Suffice to say, there’s just a little more to it than running a pair of scissors across my eyebrow line. After three haircuts in the new, nearby salon, I knew I would have to get into my car to go to the burbs. My bangs were killing me.

When I walked into the suburban salon, me and Kyle reunited with a big hug. And when he got to the bang part of the haircut, I could tell I was home.

The Week in Football!: My Bengals, oh my Bengals. Their last Superbowl appearance was Superbowl 16 in 1982. I don’t need to call too much attention to this, but I would like to note that the half-time show was Up With People presents a Salute to Motown. A totally different era!

And since that pinnacle, and a one-and-done playoff appearance in 1991, the Bengals have been breaking hearts in Cincinnati. The 31 one year playoff drought, the so-called curse of Bo Jackson, was on every local sports fan’s mind at the Bengals faced off against the Las Vegas Raiders in Cincinnati Saturday night.

All day at work on Friday, everyone was talking about where they would be watching the game. One of my co-workers was going to the game…as a Raiders fan. That caused a sensation! I, however, could only mumble my game plans, as on gameday, I was going to one of my previously bought symphony concerts (see below).

Are you effing kidding me?!?! I cannot remember a Bengals game interfering with January plans. I stayed at home watching until the last minute before I had to head to Music all, the end of the third quarter, with the Bengals up by 10. On my walk over I got a game update from a guy in a Joe Mixon jersey who’d stepped out onto the sidewalk for a smoke. I passed that info to the police officers directing traffic at Music Hall. They were pleased with the update.

I went straight to my seat and as I was pulling out my phone to get updates until the house lights dimmed, I realized the guy in the row behind me was watching the game on his phone. And as I looked around, I could tell there was a strong contingent of Bengal fans in the hall.

As soon as the first piece ended, phones went up and the murmur of relief when through the sports fans, Bengals win 26-19.

The Week in Music: With just a few minutes left in the big game, the house lights dimmed and associate conductor François López-Ferrer, along with violinist Nicola Benedetti, walked onto the stage. Her commanding presence and the opening notes of Mark Simpson’s Violin Concerto were immediately captivating.

The performance of the 40 minute piece, co-commissioned by the CSO, marked its U.S. Premiere. Simpson wrote it during COVID and it is a sprawling, emotional piece, befitting of the times. Benedetti is a charismatic and physical performer. From the quiet, reflective moments, to the frantic battles with the percussionist, and even a bit of humor, she embodied the heart and soul of the music. A real WOW!

But what also struck me, is how much she was enjoying herself. There was a lovely moment toward the end of the piece, just after a prolonged solo, where she and the conductor looked at each other and a big smile swept across her face. It was wonderful.

And speaking of that conductor and joy, López-Ferrer, he was a delight to watch. Stepping in for Maestro Louis Langrée, Lopez-Ferrer conducted Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier Suite as if he was going to jump right off the podium. The restraint he showed conducting the Violin Concerto was replaced by pure, unabashed joy. There was a moment, just as the piece was winding toward the conclusion, where he literally leaned back on the back bar of podium stand and just listened for a few seconds, like he was caught up in the music! His enthusiasm was palpable.

Full recording is not yet available. This is a taste.

What I Learned This Week: #225

Monday, January 3 – Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Week in COVID Part 1 – Communication: In a weird week where COVID cases spiked across the country, in my office, we had an doozy of a Monday afternoon. A new employee on her very first day in the office, chose to wait until after lunch to mention she had COVID. That’s how the few us who had come into contact with her heard the story. Wow. We had a tense, curse-filled hour or so because she took it upon herself to go home. Once we tracked her down, the truth came out. Turns out she HAD had COVID relatively and was around someone the previous week who was continuing to test positive for weeks after he had symptoms. (It’s confusing, yes.) As Emily Lutella from 70’s era SNL would say, “Nevermind.”

Where's Gilda Ratner When We Need Her? — Kate [NEWLIN CONSULTING]

The Week in COVID Part 2 – Cancelled!: The spike in Omicron is cancelling and disrupting things right and left. I was set to see the musical Hairspray at the Aronoff but the cast is infected and they postponed till May. Also, the diner I walk past on my way to work had to close two days this week due to the COVID’s impact on staffing. It’s not that I missed their food (which is great), but I did miss the Oldies music they pipe onto the sidewalk. Usually it’s a tune I know that I can hum and pretend I know the words to for the last two blocks of my commute. The last song of the week was on Tuesday, “One Fine Day” by the Chiffons. At least it was a jam!

The Week in COVID Part 3 – Hope: Finally, this week I bought tickets for the three day music festival, Forcastle, in Louisville. It is scheduled for Memorial Day Weekend and I’m hoping one, that it happens, and two, that after a two year hiatus from 3-day music festivals, I still have the stamina to do it. I might need a training program.

The Week in Found Money: One day this week I found a $5 bill on the ground on my walk to work. I thought that was great. The same day, on my walk back to work from lunch, I found another $5 dollar bill. I looked around a lot longer, expecting I was part of test. Seemed legit and I pocketed that, too.

Later in the week, a guy hustled me for money. I said I didn’t have any but he persisted. In some way, a street hustler’s persistence annoys me, but in other ways, I find it impressive that they continue in the face of adversity. Anyway, he asked if I could buy him something from the store. I thought about the ten bucks of found money in my pocket. I thought he was going to ask for chips or beer, but he asked for Newports, two packs. Not one pack, two. Hilarious. Well, I actually walked up the the store, bought ONE pack of Newports, $9.87!!!, and walked back and handed it over to him. That squared me in the hood for the week!

The Week in Shopping: My Mom’s brand of peanut butter is Reese, like from the Reese’s Cup peanut butter. It is hard to find, but Walmart carries it. I’ve been having it shipped to her for a couple years for no reason other than I don’t like to shop in Walmart. This week though, I went to the Ft. Wright Walmart.

It was just as I remember it and, honestly, there’s nothing wrong with Walmart at all. It serves a large swath of the country and though a lot of the goods are cheaper in quality, many are great and simply sold at a cheaper price. The politics of shoppers was as apparent there as in any store I normally shop at, just leaning right instead of left. They carry a lot of products for people who make things and do things. And weirdly, for all the conservative, right wing, home-based merchandise, the music in the store was an indie playlist that would have been right at home in any hipster bar I would hang at.

I walked around for a bit with 4 jars of Reese peanut butter in my cart. A couple of people stopped me to ask what I had. Maybe there will be a run on Reese and it will become available at my more regular stores. Maybe!

The Week in the Demise of Dry January: I tried Dry January this year. It was a mess from the get-go. On 1/1, I was at my friend’s house, the house with one of the best beer fridges in the city. I started on 1/2, and was raring to go. Then, Omicron spiked, an old friend passed away, and even one of my best friend’s dogs died. I mean, I don’t want to live a country song, but if I have to live a country song, I best enjoy some booze. Eight days of pandemic dry = 30 days of regular dry. Cheers!

What I Learned This Week: #224

Monday, December 20, 2021 – Sunday, January 2, 2022

In a year where time was impossible to latch onto, the week leading up to Christmas and the time between Christmas and New Years were all Fridays. Every day. Except for my co-worker Joe, who kept having Wednesdays. Weird. Anyway, here’s a two week bridge of minutae.

The Week in Holiday Work Gifts: Knowing who to gift, and when, is absolutely one of the most difficult work activities. (Also, on that list, for workplaces with multiple bathrooms, finding the one where you can do number two…but that’s for another day.) The process is complicated and varies from place to place and from year to year. Should you get a gift for your boss, or go in with others to buy a group gift? Does everyone on the team get a gift? What about the co-worker who has nothing to do with your job, but is your work buddy? How much should you spend?

I have solved this problem in my head by referring to the practice of holiday gift giving as sharing tokens of my appreciation. So, my very immediate people got small tokens reflecting that I was paying attention to them all year – tea for one of my bosses, local honey for the other, and a soup mix for my closest associate – small but, I think, appropriate. I have a small team, and for them, I made and brought in a breakfast casserole. And just like that, I was over the gifts at work dilemma. Until next year!

The Week in Cats: My next door neighbor left town for Christmas and I was in charge of medicating, not feeding but medicating, one of them. Their food gets distributed on a timer but the medicine has to be administered live. Only one of the little guys gets medicine, a couple drops of some long-named med mixed into a little bit of wet food twice a day. The other non-medicated cat gets the same amount of food (med free) as a solidarity meal with the medicated cat.

The first day I mixed up the bowls, but not which cat gets medicated and the owner, who could see what was happening on her camera, texted me in a panic. She wanted to make sure I knew the skinny cat got no medicine and the fat boy did. I got it. I also wondered why she didn’t refer to them as the grey cat and the brown cat instead of the skinny and fat one!

The Week in Not Cooking: My Mom has not used her oven in about 7 years, so this year when we decided to do take out for Christmas dinner, I was a little concerned. I emailed her to tell her the take out would require us to re-warm the meal in her oven. She called me (which is how she responds to email) to say she wasn’t sure how to turn the oven on, but she wasn’t using it for storage. Kind of a mixed message. When I got to her house on Christmas Eve, we tried out the oven. It fired right up. It smelled like the heater the first time it kicks on for the season, and that’s how we discovered her kitchen window was broken. LOL! Anyway, the oven worked and dinner was great.

The Week in Patience, and Other Life Lessons: This week’s lesson started about 4 years ago when my friends’ (at the time) 12 year old got a new winter coat that I liked a lot. I asked her to trade me for my coat. Obviously that was a non-starter, but each winter I would ask reminding her that one day she would outgrow the coat and I would still be standing at 5 foot tall and waiting.

Well, this year, the last present to be unwrapped at Christmas was left for me. And as I pulled back the paper I immediately recognized my prize for 4 years of patience, and keeping my eyes on the prize. Christmas gifts usually inspire humility, but this one inspired VICTORY!!!

This coat just works for me!!

The Week in Covid (Booster, Urgent Care, Home Test): This week I saw I kinds of Covid collateral without actually experiencing Covid. First up, I was able to schedule both me and my Mom for Moderna boosters via one of the local hospital systems. Very smooth. She had a typical reaction. I had the rare-ish but known swelling of my armpit lymph nodes. I had to Google it because in nearly two years of Covid coverage I hadn’t come across armpit pain.

But a few days later, the Sunday after Christmas, my Mom need to go to Urgent Care of a non-Covid related ear infections. Because so many people were there to get Covid testing, mostly for travel clearance as far as I could tell, the clinic was overrun. We waited for 3 hours in the waiting room and were there for about 3 1/2 hours total. No biggie, just hanging out with strangers in a medical center during a pandemic. We both had N-95 masks on, and I honestly wasn’t worried about contracting Covid, but the conditions were ripe.

I wore a mask at work for 3 days explaining my potential exposure. On the third day I took a test and was negative. My Mom had no symptoms either. Luckily, the only thing Covid did to me over the holidays was waste my time.

The Week in Dog Sitting Dog and Pozole/Posole: I spent a few days dog sitting in Anderson Twp. where, with a nod to Bengals QB Joe Burrow, there isn’t much to do. So, I gave myself a cooking project. I spent two days making my version of Mexican red pork pozole. Red Pozole is a Mexican soup/stew made with pork, a particular type of large kernel corn, and chili peppers. Pozole in the southern region of the U.S. is often spelled with an ‘s’ – posole, and that’s how I refer to the dish I make. I loosely follow a couple recipes I’ve found, and then just do what works based on the ingredients I can find in Cincinnati, a decidedly not southwest town.

During the two days of kitchen activity, the dogs by-and-large left me alone. They weren’t around when I made broth, rehydrated corn, or whizzed up a chili pepper slurry. But then, OMG THEN, I got to the shredding of the pork. Hello doggos!

Dogs sensing the presence of meat.

The YEAR in Books:

This year I read 31 books and a total of 13,241 pages (that’s 1,129/362,447 since I’ve been keeping track). This year’s author’s were a less-diverse group than I like. I try to read more world authors, but this year only Japan and Canada broke through. (It’s a weak year for international authors when Canada is one of the standard bearers…sorry Canada.) Twenty of the 31 books on this year’s list were written by women. Twelve were non-fiction.

My fiction book of the year is the last book I read in 2021, Circe by Helen Miller. Miller takes the familiar stories of Greek Gods and focusses on the retelling of the life of the Witch Circe. She is one of the most richly drawn and compelling characters I have read in years and though pieces of the overall story are familiar (Zeus, Daedalus, Odysseus, Athena and more are all here) Circe’s struggles made for a real page-turner. There’s a reason we’re still telling the stories of the origin of our world from the ancient Greek point of view. The stories are still great and Miller is a very skilled story teller.

I also very much enjoyed Deacon King Kong, a surprisingly gentle, funny, somewhat spiritual and touching novel that takes place in a Brooklyn housing project in 1969. I also liked the very funny novel Less, which kicks off when the lead character Arthur Less decides he needs to be out of town when he ex-lover gets married, and he sets off on a comic odyssey. I also liked The Vanishing Half, about two light skinned black twins born in the segregated south from which one leaves and starts a life passing as a white woman in California. Joy Luck Club is a considered a modern must read and its depiction of the relationship between mothers and daughters is very touching. A Prayer for Owen Meany is uneven, like most John Irving books (in my opinion), but when it is working, it’s sensational. And, very, very unusual for me, I really enjoyed the psychological horror novel Mexican Gothic, a richly described nightmare that is creepy from start to finish.

I read two wildly uneven fiction books this year meaning parts were pretty great while the rest of book flailed. The promise of a great book was there for both but the overall book doesn’t cut it, so I recommend with reservation. The way the Crow Flies, by Anne-Marie MacDaniel is a long book, but I could not stop reading the first 600 pages. MacDaniel created a slow, tense burn focused on the murder of a little girl near an Airbase in Canada, but the last 200 pages of the book, taking place 20 years after the murder, were mostly a bust. Weight of Ink, by Rachel Kadish tells the story of two modern historians translating and deciphering texts from the 1600s and the story of the young woman who wrote the texts in her role as a scribe for a blind rabbi. The historical chapters of the book were absolutely terrific. The modern part of the book was a real mess.

Far and away my favorite nonfiction book of the year was These Truths: A History of America, a 700 plus page examination of how race has impacted America from its inception. It is thoughtful and quiet book that is easy to read and digest. Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings was densely packed with information, but very interesting stuff. And, Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman, a memoir by physicist Richard Feynman was a hoot, even though there were many paragraphs of math and science I couldn’t make heads or tails out of. (P.S. The Feynman Method for learning new, complex things, is pretty neat. Google that in your spare time!)