Home Again, Home Again; Little K’s Gran Aventura 2022 (Part 3)

Here’s the map if you’re following along.

Leaving Las Vegas. We said our goodbyes after breakfast and then piled into the car. We did this road trip because we didn’t feel safe flying during the pandemic with an unvaccinated Li’l K. Now that she’s started her course of vaccinations, road trips seem doable to me, but my sister and brother-in-law have flatly said no; next time, we’ll be flying. For the record, I enjoy the quality time.

We learned lessons on the ride out. Stop at playgrounds for Li’l K every 90 minutes if possible. Mexican food fits all of our dietary restrictions, sensitivities, and preferences; I, for one, don’t get tired of it. We can’t eat fried American food (anything served with fries on the side) for more than two meals in a row.

We made three changes to our plan for the return trip. The first change was to pack lunches for the first day, to avoid eating fried American food for two meals in a row; I made smoked salmon onigiri. The second change was to add about 30 minutes to our driving time by taking a route through the Sierras in eastern California. The route is more scenic and has more playgrounds, and there was all kinds of construction between Las Vegas and Nevada that we didn’t want to get caught in. The third change was to get a hotel in Carson City, rather than Reno. The Peppermill in Reno was convenient in terms of food (there are restaurants in the casino) but we needed something less casino.

There was some roadwork on US-95 that caused about a 20 minute delay. I was driving.

Beatty, Nevada was our first stop. We ate onigiris at Cottonwood Park, and Li’l K ran across the field a couple of times. We didn’t stop for gas or food, even though someone recommended that we buy jerky. I’m a pescatarian.

My sister took wheel for the next leg of the trip, which took us farther up US-95 before turning onto Nevada State Route 266 in rural Esmeralda County, the back way into California, through the High Sierra. I had taken this (beautifully scenic) route once before, in 2010, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever go that way again. I recognized some of the valleys, the curves, and the mountain views; however the blue spruce and the Ponderosa pines didn’t seem as striking this time.

Big Pine, California was our next stop. The Ticos played at Mendenhall Park while my sister and I fueled up at Chevron and got drinks. I discovered that blue zero-sugar Gatorade is what I wish swimming pools were filled with. For some reason we didn’t stop to eat at Big Pine; we kept driving and once we went through Bishop, California, I realized that’s where our time might have been spent; it’s a much bigger town.

Lee Vining, California wasn’t a planned stop, but we were admiring Mono Lake and we needed a little break. We stopped at a gas station, and watched Big K walk into the women’s room. We all shrugged, but Big K was a little chagrinned when he walked out and realized. At that point, the men’s room was filled with three generations of a Chinese American family (also on a road trip, probably to Yosemite), so I used the women’s room as well.

Bridgeport, California seemed like a quiet town. We took Li’l K to play at the Bridgeport Children’s Park, and noticed there was some kind of fair going on. A barefoot blond boy was pretty excited about climbing with Li’l K on the playground toys, and later I saw him sitting by himself. The town history museum was nearby, and there was an outdoor history board that explained that Bridgeport became the county seat after the surveyors came and determined that the county seat in Aurora was actually in Nevada.

Carson City, Nevada is only a 90 minute drive from Bridgeport. We checked in at the Staybridge Suites and ordered the last pupusas of the night from La Santaneca, and ate them in our room. The next morning, the breakfast buffet was good; they had the good kind of breakfast sausage , and Li’l K enjoyed the bacon and the yogurt with blueberries. Both Big K and my sister wanted to sleep in, but there was a fire alarm that got us all out in to the parking lot. Li’l K buried her head into my shoulder as I ran her outside. We went back inside a few minutes later and the sleepyheads went back to sleep. Li’l K and I played for a few minutes, and then I decided to take her outside to water the plants with her baby watering can, and water from my water bottle. Once we were out of water, and it was time to go back inside, I realized I hadn’t brought the room key. Back in the room, mamá was asleep and papá was in the bathroom, so Li’l K and I had to wait a little bit to get back in. We spent some time at the picnic table near the dog park, and later in the hotel courtyard. At one point Li’l K got thirsty and I felt really bad for forgetting the key. Luckily we found our way in and Big K opened the door for us.

This second day of driving back was a shorter total drive; only five hours. However, the stretches were longer. Susanville, California is nearly two hours from Carson City, but we made it because Li’l K was asleep. We took her to play at Riverside Park while I went to look for food. Starbucks was out of breakfast sandwiches, and Taco Bell was out of Mexican Pizzas, and we learned that Li’l K does not like KFC; not the chicken, not the potatoes. She ended up eating the last of the onigiris, while the rest of us choked down fast food back at the park. We fueled up and continued through Lassen National Forest.

McCloud, California is two hours and twenty minutes; the longest non-stop stretch we had. As before, we stopped to play at Hoo Hoo Park, where Li’l K met a friend named Quinnen from Sonoma County who was in McCloud visiting family for the Fourth of July holiday. We discovered that the park is in the shadow of the looming Mt. Shasta, a fact that we somehow managed to miss on the way down. Also, it turns out that Li’l K really likes the playground toy that’s a vehicle on springs, that she can mount like a horse and rock back and forth. She had recently discovered that airplanes, like animals, have tails, and was excited to ride on the airplane. I couldn’t bear to tell her it was actually a missile (with a saddle and handlebars).

Once back on the road, we blew through Weed and Yreka, over the passes and finally made it to Ashland, Oregon. We got our room at the Comfort Inn (it was fine but it had a 1970s Rocky Mountain High, Mork and Mindy vibe). We went to Agave for dinner. There were 60 year olds making out in the parking lot (and not giving up their parking spaces) and I should have ordered more food because both Big K and I left hungry. We ended up taking a stroller walk through Lithia Park and happened upon some kind of hippy festival (it’s the Shakespeare Festival but hippies dance in the park for some reason. Li’l K was impressed by the dudes who made huge soap bubbles out of two sticks and a piece of rope. My sister was especially glad to see that slice of life in Ashland. The next morning we ate some hotel breakfast buffet (wasn’t as good as in Carson City) and got breakfast sandwiches at Starbucks before hitting the road again. Last day of driving!

I had planned stops in Roseburg and Salem; that is to say, I researched playgrounds and Mexican restaurants with outdoor patios so that we could stop, play, and eat food. We didn’t stop in Roseburg, as Li’l K was taking a morning nap. Must be nice! After nearly three hours, we finally stopped in Springfield, Oregon, to slide down the slides at Meadow Park. We had lunch in nearby Eugene, Oregon at Chapala Mexican Restaurant, a sprawling, high-ceilinged family restaurant with sunshine yellow walls, high ceilings, and an outdoor mall courtyard patio, where you could eat your lunch not around cars. Li’l K decided she enjoyed chips and salsa, and I ordered some shrimp enchiladas that had TOO MUCH CREAM. Holy smokes, too much. Big K bought us all chocolates from the chocolatier. Li’l K took me on a walk around the plaza, climbing up three flights of stairs to get to a statue of a duck as tall as me. Later she took that same walk with her papá.

Big K drove the next leg of the journey, and Li’l K needed a diaper change right as we arrived in Salem. For some reason, we ended up on Commercial Street, where Google Maps took us to three different Starbucks; one in a Fred Meyer (pass!), one in a Safeway (pass!) and finally a free-standing café with an outdoor patio. I ordered what I always order at Starbucks, which is some pink sugar free tea that is supposedly passion fruit, which is not pink. Li’l K got a diaper change in the open air on the patio, where we could hear the drive-thru customers ordering their fluffy, barely coffee drinks. We got back in the car and for several minutes we continued to pretend to order ridiculous fluffy drinks, and another customer named Erin (but my sister called “Karen”) who called her order in ahead and was mad that they didn’t have it ready.

My sister drove the next leg, and I slept in the passenger seat. When I woke up, we were just crossing the Columbia River into Washington. We stopped for gas at a Chevron in Vancouver, which was worthless because we couldn’t use the bathroom. We ended up getting back in the car and driving to the next rest stop so that we could have a proper stretch break.

After that, it was back in the car. I think I drove the last stretch. We blew through Longview, Kelso, Centralia, Chehalis, Tumwater, Olympia, Lacey, Nisqually, JBLM, Tacoma, Fife, Federal Way, and finally home to Rainier Beach. We unloaded and rescued my car from the neighbors, meanwhile Li’l K went upstairs and rediscovered all the toys she hadn’t seen in two weeks.

I had a great time on this road trip. I enjoyed the drive down, the family time, and the drive back up. I didn’t find it hard to travel with Li’l K, not even during a pandemic, though it might have been nice to eat indoors. We are still looking forward to that. The pandemic also limited what we could do in Las Vegas; Li’l K saw the inside of a doctor’s office for her vaccine, and then a series of pools and spray parks. She is probably to young to remember any of this, but I will very much cherish these memories.

Spraypark to Spraypark; Little K’s Gran Aventura de 2022 (Part 2)

¡Ya me vacuné! Li’l K got her first shot of the Covid-19 vaccine on day two of our stay in Las Vegas. She’ll have another does in a month. My sister prepared her for days in advance that she will feel a poke and then it will be over. Li’l K watched the whole procedure with great interest and cried at the appropriate time. It occurs to me that we keep failing to distract her with her favorite video on a cell phone.

We have been relentless in trying to keep her from the virus. Even when my sister and I contracted the virus ourselves, we were able to keep her safe through isolation and masking inside the house; we couldn’t let her catch it. The fact that she’s starting the vaccine cycle is a huge relief, and it was the highlight of our road trip; the rest of our time there was all gravy.

Pangasinan. We speak mostly Spanish to Kora at home, but my sister speaks to her in a mix of Spanish and Pangasinan (the language of my parents’ town in the Philippines). After 48 hours of seeing my parents, Li’l K was reacting appropriately to, and responding back to them in Pangasinan. My sister got them to narrate Li’l K’s favorite Disney Plus shorts to her in Pangasinan, and recorded these narration sessions.

Both my sister and I have felt in the same 48 hours our own Pangasinan skills improving, and I suspect my parents understand all the Spanish we speak to Li’l K. I think that language directed toward babies tends to be transparent to others; and also that the language learning instinct is wide open to us adults as well as to kids.

In the meantime, Li’l K’s Spanish has been exploding as well; her vocabulary is expanding and we’re noticing subject-verb and verb-object sentences.

Mansalog. Here’s the watering can I bought for Li’l K. Her grandparents water the pot garden every morning and Li’l K wants to be a part of it. She loves being outside, she loves water, she loves plants, and she loves her grandparents. I personally can’t relate; I find it tedious. But look at my little niece go…

Splash! Here’s a map of the playgrounds, spray parks, and pools we tried in Las Vegas. We also go her this backyard sprinkler toy. This little girl loves water, and honestly what else do you do with a partially vaccinated toddler in a searing-hot pandemic summer? We were taking her out once, sometimes twice a day. We developed favorites; my sister preferred Centennial Hills Park, while I liked Raptor Park. By the way, in Vegas they don’t call them “spray parks,” they call them “splash pads” which is weird, whatever.

One thing I noticed at the spray park/splash pads was that for the most part, it was POCs. Li’l K learned to interact with the water by watching the little Mexican boys redirect the jets, run through them, and splash each other. The kids that played with her, and the parents that shared the benches with us, were Black families. Li’l K talked about 13-week old Eva for days after meeting her with her mother. I concluded that white families (especially the more wealthy ones) don’t take their kids to public spray parks or the YMCA pool the way we did. Maybe they have their own private pools to play in? I guess I will have to ask someone.

Stay tuned for Part 3.

Playground to Playground; Li’l K’s Gran Aventura de 2022 (Part 1)

On Saturday, June 18, the family piled into a rented Chevy Equinox and pointed it toward the Mojave Desert. I imagined we’d make it from Seattle all the way to Salem, but Li’l K had other plans. Here’s a map, if you’re following along.

Wilsonville, Oregon was our first stop. We took Kora to play in the Murase Plaza Playground, and got take-out at the nearby Wankers Corner Saloon, which screamed “Australia!” in an awkward way. But our sever/bartender was sweet. We brought our food to the park.

Roseburg, Oregon. We stopped for dinner here; I found a Mexican restaurant with an outdoor patio, called Gilberto’s. It was sunny and cool out, and we had the patio to ourselves. Li’l K ran in circles around the tables and the columns and got all her wiggles out. I thought I saw some overly patriotic trucks driving up and down the street, which was kind of yuck, but was glad to be at a Mexican American establishment. Also, the staff found Li’l K adorable. I think I sat in the back seat with Li’l K on the drive to Medford.

Medford, Oregon. We arrived at the Best Western at sunset, and the parking lot seemed packed. All the ice machines were broken, which was a bummer, but we slept alright. The next morning, the hotel breakfast buffet was a hotel breakfast buffet. As a diabetic pescatarian, I”m usually limited to buttered toast, potatoes, and eggs. I regretted not brining my own hot sauce.

Ashland, Oregon is only a few minutes from Medford but we stopped anyway to get a taste of the Lithia Water from the fountains in the city’s plaza. It smells like farts, and tastes like a liquid egg salad that’s been sitting out all day. I happen to enjoy stale egg salad. Big K said it tasted like Saratoga Springs water (but less sulfur), and Li’l K took a whiff and was having none of it. We went back to the car, but stopped a Starbucks for breakfast sandwiches (and no coffee) before getting back on to I-5 for the day.

McCloud, California is the last stop before we enter the Lassen National Forest. Li’l K fell asleep, so there was no stopping in Weed or Yreka. McCloud looked like it was built as a lumber company town during the Teddy Roosevelt administration, from the looks of the template housing. I left the gang at Hoo Hoo Park while I filled the gas tank. The weather was warm and it felt like the first day of summer camp. Afterward, Big K drove through Lassen National Forest, and I took a nap in the passenger seat. It was spooky to see the wildfire damage; I’m not sure if it was from the Dixie Fire or the Graham Fire or some other.

Susanville, California. We found Mick’s Big Bite Café and ate some American food for lunch. Once again, the people were real sweet to Li’l K, and we had the patio to ourselves so she ran around and got her wiggles out.

Reno, Nevada. We arrived in the late afternoon, got our fancy room, and ordered Chinese food from the casino restaurant. Normally I’d think this was a good stop, but it’s a little stressful to stay in a hotel casino with an unvaccinated baby girl during a pandemic. Walking through the casino to our room felt like a tactical movement through a noisy jungle of disease. Still, Li’il K got to swim in a pool for the first time, and she LOVED IT YOU GUYS. The next morning there was casino hotel breakfast and we were off again, happy to be out of there.

Schurz. Nevada. This was just a pit stop at the Four Seasons Smoke Shop, on the Walker River Paiute Tribe. I had’t researched this leg of the trip very much so we were winging it in the Great Basin Desert.

Hawthorne, Nevada. We needed lunch and a diaper change, and found Pepper’s Place and had some fried American food. Hawthorne is home to a huge US Army ammunition depot. A contractor who was eating his lunch alone there couldn’t resist Li’l K, and gave her a limited edition silver coin, encased in plastic. Later, Li’l K dropped a piece of fish on the ground and picked it up and ate it. ¡Ay, baby, no!

Tonopah, Nevada. We made a honest attempt to find a playground and a spot for a diaper change, but gassing up at Chevron was all we managed to do here. Back in the car, and on to…

Beatty, Nevada. Cottonwood Park is a sweet little park with a playground and tree-shaded. It’s next to a Family Dollar, and for a minute I considered going in and buying some stickers for the baby to play with. Instead I bought some quesadillas and a burrito at the truck at Gema’s Café and brought it back to the park to eat at the shaded picnic table.

Las Vegas, Nevada. We arrived at our final destination, Mamang and Papang’s house. Everyone was glad to see each other, and we all ate our welcome meal that Mamang had made for us, even though we had recently just eaten in Beatty.

Here are some takeaways from our 3 day drive:

  • Playground to playground. My parents’ generation planned road trips from gas station to gas station. Me, my style is to plan stops around meals. With an unvaccinated two-year-old, we ended up planning pit stops around toddler-friendly playgrounds. On the trip back (a later post), I researched playgrounds before we started the journey. The wiggles needed letting out, and we didn’t want to get caught unprepared like we were when we stopped at playground-less Tonopah. If they have a playground there, we didn’t find it on Google Maps.
  • Mexican food. As a family, we have our own dietary tastes, sensitivities, and restrictions, and the easiest thing for us to eat was Mexican food, and at some point I stopped googling other cuisine options. It wasn’t always great, but it was at least always something we could eat. American food (burgers, fries, and fried things) started to wear on us by day two. Also, it feels nice to be around other brown people, other Spanish-speakers when traveling through Red State America. Traveling with a gorgeous, well-mannered, irresistible Spanish-speaking baby also cheered everyone up wherever we stopped.
  • I hate CarPlay. There is a lag in CarPlay which caused me to miss a couple turns early on. I tried to disable it so I could just use Google Maps on my phone, but I couldn’t figure it out. I pretty much hate all the “smart” features in a car, outside of cruise control.
  • Back seat programming. We started with baby quiz games like “roll call,” “where is s/he,” “what does the cat say,” and “who has a tail/beak…” all the classics. There were songs like “La vaca Lola,” “Mariposita,” Baby Shark,” “¿Dónde está?.” We had her favorite playlists ready to play at any time. Favorite toys, dolls, and stuffies were scheduled to appear (and disappear) to keep things interesting. A few toys made debuts in the back seat: some stress balls, a fidget ball, a magnetic maze, and some stickers. The best entertainment was Mamá, who kept her interested and giggling, followed by our secret weapon, the iPad with all her favorite Disney shorts downloaded for offline availability.

Lil’l K also had some surprises for us. Sometimes, during roll call, she reported that she was absent; “No está,” she’d say, “She’s not here.” She had a funny habit of throwing her stress balls in the gap between the carseat and the car door, where we couldn’t reach, and then being anxious about not having her stress balls.

The adventure continues…

The Mildness of It All; My Dance with Covid-19

Last weekend, Little K had the sniffles, I spent the weekend wiping mutég from her face. She caught it from Little V, from NannyCare. They they tested both babies; both negative.

If you know me, my family and I have made every choice to be safe and to keep those babies negative. I have three shots of Pfizer in me, but those babies can’t get vaccinated yet. We are their defense, and I’ve been pretty ruthless about not taking risks.

Well on Monday, I got the sniffles, and had some achiness. I figured it must not be Covid since the babies were negative, so I took the last NyQuil Cold that my brother in law scrounged up and felt better the next day. Still a little sniffly, post nasal drip in my throat, but good enough to go to work. So I did, I went to work.

On Wednesday, my sister started feeling those sniffles, so out of an abundance of caution she tested, and unfortunately it was positive. I was at work, so I went down the the Dean’s office and tested there… positive. Dammit! On the way home I stopped for a PCR test and we went into isolation.

Scorecard: My sister and I are positive, but the ticos (my brother in law and Little K) keep testing negative. Multiple negative rapid tests, multiple negative PCR tests. Little V and his family? Also negative. The nanny tests negative as well, but starts having symptoms and now cannot taste her hot cheetos.

We have split our house into two isolation zones; I’m on the first floor, my sister is on the 2nd floor. The healthy ticos stay in Little K’s room. When they are shut in the bedroom or in the bathroom, the two covid positive filipinos mask up and go to the kitchen, to prepare our meals, our isolation kits, and to clean up after the healthy ticos. We are some cleaning fairies. We chuck the dishes into the dishwasher, put away dishes and toys, sweep the floor, wipe everything down, and then retreat to our separate isolation zones.

I tested positive on Wednesday, so they told me to stay home on Thursday and Friday. On Thursday, my symptoms went away, and so I’m just hanging out. I’ve cleaned my room, done all the laundry, planned my classes, and graded three stacks of exams in isolation. That’s in between cleaning fairy duties.

The covid positive filipinos continue to test positive so far, although my mild symptoms are gone, and I think my sister is improving. The stubbornly healthy ticos continue to test negative, and we’re going to keep it that way.

Some thoughts; I have dreaded the idea of a Covid infection until now, and really felt pity for people who have contracted it and suffered during the infection. I have wanted to avoid infection so much, I even wanted to avoid the topic of Covid. Now that it’s happening to me, I think I’m the most interesting person in the world! Look at my test results! Marvel at the Mildness of It All! I have work off! Look at all I’m accomplishing!

Of course the downside is that I’m isolating from Little K. I see her through the window on her way to the park, she pounds on my isolation zone door before putting on her shoes. During meal times, we zoom in to join her on screen. She asks for ukulele songs, and I put on a show. I love her.

This has got to be a strain on my brother in law, since he is the entire 24 hour care team; we an’t relieve him. However, he’s handling it gracefully… both of them are.

The best part, even better than the mildness of it all, is that Kora isn’t anxious about not seeing me. Instead, she’s thrilled to see me when she can. As am I. However I will confess to being anxious about not seeing her. I can’t wait until this is behind me, and these babies can get their vaccines.

Troubled Times

I have been reluctant to post in the last few years. Part of it has been because back in California I was working too hard; was too exhausted to rehash my thoughts for a blog post. Another part of it was general disgust of the Trump years; I didn’t want to constantly be posting from a place of outrage.

There were many times I considered more pandemic posting; I kind of regret not documenting all the things we did out of fear to stay alive. Back when we thought “surfaces,” we would take our shoes off at the door, walk straight to the laundry room and strip off all our outer clothes directly into the washing machine, and then march straight into the shower to decontaminate. We wiped down our groceries and washed all our vegetables.

Masking to control your own droplets was a huge topic; it was totally ridiculous. It went from the CDC saying they were unneeded–except urgently needed in hospitals–what?! Then they said to cover your damn face with anything. Then they said bandanas and cloth wasn’t good enough. At every point there were anti-mask assholes clowning (and catching COVID) and by the time they said that surgical masks weren’t good enough, most Americans stopped caring and soon masks became officially optional. Adults worried that masked kids would bully unmasked kids and vice versa, which I do hear about online, but it’s not something I’ve witnessed.

Anyway, I haven’t wanted to preserve my thoughts about the Trump years and/or the Covid years for prosperity. I don’t want to dwell on my lack of faith in fellow Americans. Who are assholes.

On the other hand, I could blog every day about my niece, Baby K, Miss Baby, la Morenita. She is cooler and cooler every day. Lately she’s been identifying which objects (first it was animals, then people, then objects) had cabezas, and which one had colas. This was based on the song “La vaca Lola,” who famously has a cabeza and has a cola, and says “muuuu.”

I was over the moon when Little K took a turn at saying “muuuu” but discovering colas was a revelation. She checked all her animals butts, most had colas, but a few did not; the ranita, the cangrejo. She was surprised to find out that she herself did not have a cola, nor did any of the adults in the house. She has since extrapolated that her grandparents do not have colas, even though she hasn’t inspected their butts.

She has decided that the bouncy ball I bought for her at the grocery story has a cabeza; but she announces “¡no cola!” when I quiz her on it. This is the only adverbial negation that she used in combination with other words, so I still think she is early in the two word phase. Much more well-attested and generative are más + noun combinations, like “¡más música!” or “¡más agua!”

There are other combinations like “All done” and “I love you” and “te quiero” that occur in chunks, although my sister claims that Little K has said “I love you, Momo” to her sleepy cuddle doll. Lucky Momo!

I feel lucky when she sits in my lap, or when she sits next to me on the couch or at the table. I imagine that soon she won’t want to sit with me, so I’m going to enjoy it while I can.

Fast Recipes I shouldn’t Forget

Shortcut Potage (green soup). I blogged about this a couple years ago. The shortcut is to use a small bag of broccoli slaw, a small bag of cut broccoli & cauliflower. Steam until tender. Add salt, soy sauce, black pepper, oregano. Return to pan with some olive oil, and bring to boil. Add water (or reduce) to get the consistency you like.

Impossible Meatloaf. When I was a meat-eater, I blogged about insane meatloaf surprise!, Insane Meatloaf Surprise, Another Meatloaf Recipe; as a pescatarian, I made a Meatless Monday Meatloaf Meal. Heres’ a shortcut:

For the meatloaf, use one package of Impossible meat, one package of savory Impossible sausage. Combine with an egg, salt, bread crumbs, oregano. The glaze is one part tomato paste, one part soy sauce. Bake at 425º F for 25 min or half an hour.

Egg flour soup. A TikTok recipe. Bring a box of veggie stock and a can of creamed corn to a boil. Yes, I said it. Season with pepper, salt, soy sauce. Consider floaties: bamboo shoots? tomato guts? slivers of mushroom? These are not traditional but if you need them out of your fridge, then throw them in. At the last second, drizzle in some well scrambled eggs. Top with julienned green onions or whatever. Some people use a corn starch slurry instead of a can of creamed corn.

Green Onion Pansit. Chop green onions into inch long batons; smash the whites flat. Fry them all in some oil until they are half charred. Add a package of mami noodles and a cup of water (or veggie stock). Stir in a mix: soy sauce, vinegar, black pepper, something sweet (I skip this). Move the noodles constantly until sauce is boiled-off/absorbed. Dress with sesame seeds, sesame oil, whatever.

Mushroom Gravy (from powder). Roughly 2 tbsp flour, 2 tbsp butter (or oil from cooking something else), and 2 cups instant mushroom broth. Whisk into a roux, pour in broth (hot or cold). Bring to a boil. At some point add black pepper.

I saw a video from chef Jaques Pépin video where he said a béchamel was 1.5 tbsp flour, 1.5 tbsp butter, 1.5 cup milk, and that was an easy formula to remember. To make it a cheese sauce, coat grated cheese with flour or cornstarch and add in stages.

Rogue Ramen (Recipe)

This recipe is based on the Kujirai ramen trend; for a lot of people it was a prescribed recipe. For me it was a new way of thinking about those ramen noodles; that I can make them with a thick saucy sauce, and they’ll be ready in three minutes, depending on how much of a hurry I’m in.

Put half a cup of water into a pan and turn on the flame. Immediately add half of the soup packet (or the whole packet, if you’re feeling salty, who cares), whatever vegetable packet, all the noodles, a glug of whatever oil is the closest.

Then turn your back and fry (or microwave poach) an egg, and shred some cheese; I use sharp cheddar.

Notice that your noodles are boiling. Flip them so that the dry side that was sticking up is now in the water. Stick your chopsticks into the noodle block to loosen them and stir them around in the liquid, which is now boiling down and thickening into a sauce. For me, it’s thick enough when you scrape a spatula across the bottom of the pan and the sauce is too thick to rush in immediately.

Scrape your ramen into your serving bowl with a silicone spatula, mix in the cheese, then top with egg, green onion, seaweed, fish cakes, bamboo; whatever you put on top of ramen, go ahead and throw it on now. Then taken a second to wash out your cooking vessel with soap.

That’s it. Once your pot is clean, sit down and eat your saucy ramen.

During the pandemic we bought some ramen that was just noodles; they didn’t come with sauce packets. I improvised sauce with veggie broth, soy sauce, and a little tomato sauce. It doesn’t matter. Mix it up and put the noodles in cold; they’ll be ready in minutes.

For decades I didn’t eat instant ramen because I thought it was junky. I was right, it’s still kind of junky; but now also think it’s fun. Maybe I just didn’t want the soup.

Meatless Monday Meatloaf Meal

Preheat the oven to whatever temperature you bake potatoes at. Tonight I did 350º F. Throw your clean, whole potatoes in there.

Beat an egg. Add two handfuls of leftover Thanksgiving stuffing that’s about to go bad, and a pound of Impossible meat. If your sister grated some parmiggiano for pasta earlier in the day and left it on the counter, throw that in there too. Mix it together with your hand until you’re bored of it, and form it into a loaf, like a long maple bar.

Fit the loaf into a glass baking pan, throw in some Campari tomatoes, and bake until the potatoes are done. Tonight I baked it for an hour; the potatoes were done and the meatloaf was slightly overcooked, so an hour is too long.

While the meat and potatoes are baking, steam some zucchini that your sister bought to much of, and spinach that you swore you’d eat fresh but now is starting to wilt in the bag. Steam it until it’s all cooked and then whiz it in the Vitamix with some veggie broth from a box; whiz until it’s silky smooth. Season with salt, pepper, soy sauce, chili flakes. Heat again with some olive oil and add veggie broth until it’s soupy enough. Thicken with cream or milk or whatever, I skipped that step.

Serve the soup with a squeeze of lime. Serve the baked potatoes with butter, sour cream, chives, salt and pepper. Serve the meatloaf with a roasted tomato.

Oops I forgot to re-heat the leftover Thanksgiving mushroom gravy.

Anyway, that’s it; a meatless Monday when you’re tired and you’d rather play with a cute baby than make a Sunday-level meal. Tomorrow is Tuesday, which means picking up burritos and eating them on the living room floor, if we don’t get our act together.

Mid August Check In

The summer of 2020 was the pandemic summer; this year is Pandemic Summer II: The Delta Variant. Here’s how it’s going.

Early in the summer, my folks were here visiting, meeting Baby K for the first time. They stayed for many weeks, taking over my bedroom while I crashed in Baby K’s room, and she bunked with her parents in their room. Highlights were a baby birthday party, some cowsin visits, and a few days at an AirBnB in Westport, which included some high priced crabs (not a great year, so expensive!).

The day my folks left was the first day of a heat wave, which was no joke.

Most of the summer has been quality time with Baby K, taking her to city parks (Seward, Kubota Garden, Jefferson, Van Asselt, Lincoln, Beer Sheva, Lowman Beach) we’ve walked on forest and coastal trails, sat on grass, played in wading pools and spray parks… Baby K is not into swings yet, and she hates the stroller, but she does enjoy walks in the Ergobaby 360.

Besides outings with Baby K, there are also Naps with Baby K (photo essay to follow), meals with Baby K, and playtime with Baby K. And that’s most of the summer, and it’s the best part of it.

I have been out with friends a few times; always outdoor, masked when necessary (Katsu Burger, Ivar’s Salmon House Fish Bar, Super Six, Brouwer’s Café, Sunfish Café). But the Delta variant is still with us and reported cases are spiking. We’re hoping that it will just recede mysteriously like it seems to be doing in the UK and India but who knows anymore. Everyone in my house who is of age is vaccinated and so we don’t have to fear severe illness if we catch the Delta Variant, but as long as Baby K is vulnerable, we’re not risking anything. Still masking, still distancing, still staying outdoors. We’ll breathe easy when she’s not in danger of illness.

So now it’s time to list the cancellations. My sister had a work thing that would have taking all of us to Suquamish for a couple of days; that was cancelled long ago. I was planning on a trip to Louisiana so I can watch R take another set of vows with the Society of Jesus; but Louisiana is a Delta Virus catastrophe right now, so that’s cancelled. I was hoping to attend the West Coast wedding reception of MK and T in Temecula, but I am not feeling good about traveling yet. All of these things were scheduled before we knew about the Delta Variant, back when we figured that we’d have Corona Virus Alpha well controlled. I’m still holding on to my tickets to Vegas for Thanksgiving, but it’s only a matter of time before I cancel those as well. I don’t think Baby K will be offered a vaccine until December or January.

I’d like to go see my mama in Vegas. I’d like to visit R in Chicago, where he’ll be studying theology as a next step on his journey. I’d like to visit friends in LA and in the desert. A week in Kaua’i would be nice, especially with family. I’d also like to go to Europe, show my family the sights, take my mama through the Orsay to see the impressionists. All of these are just pipe dreams until Baby K is safe; it’s not even worth making plans at this point.

I’m back to taking classes at the gym; my new place is Rocket Community Fitness (no longer affiliated with Crossfit). I went today, and I think I’ll be able to go tomorrow as well. Before I would get the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) an not be able to workout again for a full week, but taking BCAAs seems to help a lot; today I did about 50 total deadlifts, and I think I’ll be able to do 50 squats in tomorrow’s workout.

Finally, if my weigh-ins at the doctor’s office are to be believed, I have lost 10 pounds since mid June, as of today. As a policy I don’t pay much attention to that because it has changed so much over my life, but it feels nice to have the dial moving in the right direction.

Recipe: Beans Beans, Good For Your Heart (an update)

I wrote about beans just a few months ago, but my thoughts and recipe have evolved. Here’s the new procedure:

Step One: Rinse beans clean, soak them in water 3 parts to 1 part beans, let them soak overnight. I do not actually care about this step; I do it for superstitious reasons. Indeed, soaking beans doesn’t reduce farts; the kids on TikTok don’t soak their beans for #FrijolesDeLaOlla; and chef Jaques Pépin doesn’t bother either. But still, I soak the beans overnight because my mama believes in the farts myth, and my Central American brother in law just won’t eat them. So I soak them in a big glass jar on the counter overnight, where everyone can see them soaking.

Step Two: dump the beans into a slow cooker, soak water and all. The soak water has a lot of flavor. My mama was shocked, but the beans taste rich and everyone survives. Season the boil with a large pinch of salt, a pinch of baking soda (softens the skins), some bay leaves (aroma), and three glugs of soy sauce (umami). Leave out the baking soda if you have hard water; I’ve only ever needed the baking soda in Seattle. Cook on high; 2 hours for black beans and other smaller beans; 4 hours for larger beans. These are now “frijoles de la olla” and they’re ready to eat as soon as beans are smooth, soft pillows.

Step Three: Refry. Sauté some vegetables (tomato? celery?) in a lot of butter (use oil if you want to keep it vegan). Here you can add garlic, oregano, black pepper; whatever. Next add the beans; ladle them into the butter with a slotted spoon and let them sizzle. Omit any onions or bay leaves that you boiled with the beans; their work is done. With your masher, mash a cup of beans with some of the bean broth and return it to sauté. Mix with the whole beans with the mash, and then add more bean broth. I add ALL of the bean broth, waste none of it, but if I were in a hurry to serve it, I’d add less. When I have all the time in the world, I add ALL the broth back, and then boil it all off until left with a soupy paste. At that point I turn it off, knowing it will thicken even more as it cools.

For most of my life, beans didn’t taste like expensive paté to me. Once in a while, if the beans were made in a huge batch with lots of butter (or lard) I would taste it; but usually not. In my late 40s I started to notice it with black beans, and later with red beans. Big red beans, especially, seem to have a bitter element that makes the refry deeper and more interesting. Black beans are similar, but are smoother and silkier. Pinto and navy beans taste like nothing to me until I get it to a paste consistency.

My brother in law’s family is from Central America; he grew up eating black beans ever day, and didn’t care for them. It’s now, in his thirties, that he appreciates them. My sister never knew what we were talking about when we said the beans tasted expensive, she’d say “It just tastes like beans!” However, we’ve made them so much at this point, I believe that she is starting to recognize it, as well.

But what about the farts, you ask, WHAT ABOUT THE FARTS?! Listen, if you are getting the farts from beans, you’re body is not used to digesting fiber; you probably get the farts from vegetables as well. Slowly increasing you intake of beans over time will teach your gut to handle all the fiber. In any case, the farts never killed anyone, except in Como agua para chocolate.