Sunday, June 13, 2021

Perfect Disdain

“If you sincerely believed in God, how could you form one thought, speak one sentence, without mentioning Him?” ― Neal Stephenson, Anathem

    The summer I was 16, I discovered that Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t like Catholics, and also that I didn’t like riding in convertibles with the top down.  I spent that summer babysitting for the Monroes because Cindy was going back to school to finish her degree and her husband Fletcher had to work.  I really liked the kids - Jason was an engaging and sweet 7-year-old and toddler Katie was easy-going and usually wanted to do whatever Jason did.  

    Cindy had to leave early for the University so her mother-in-law picked me up in her candy-apple-red convertible. It was a beautiful day, bright and sunny, and - unusually for Missouri in June - not too hot, and ... the top was down.  The wind was loud, and my long hair blew all around and got in my eyes, and I mostly kept my eyes closed and tried to keep up my end of the shouted conversation. I think the elder Mrs. Monroe was disappointed that I was unimpressed with her car.

    She dropped me off, and Fletcher left for work. The kids were watching He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and I plopped down and joined them - the adventures of Prince Adam were a bit of a guilty pleasure.

    The doorbell rang and when I opened the door, I found a very tiny, very wrinkled old lady on the doorstep.  

    “I’m from the local Kingdom Hall. Does your family go to church?” she asked in a friendly rasp.

    Did she mean me personally, or the Monroes? I wasn’t really in the mood for this - the mother of another family I regularly sat for was always trying to convert me. My own religious situation was complicated, so I decided to go with the Monroes - maybe that would head her off. “Well, I’m just the babysitter, but I think the family is Catholic.”

    Her friendly expression soured as her wrinkles slid into a frown.  “Oh,” she said with perfect disdain. She turned to go and left without looking back once.  

     Huh, I thought to myself.  That was almost too easy.

[Cathy's note: this one is a true story. I fleshed it out very slightly for context and because I don't remember the woman's exact words when I opened the door. It would have been was something like what I wrote, though]

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream

I originally developed this recipe for my stepkiddo's 15th birthday (so a few years back). I cobbled together this recipe from reading many different recipes and sort of mixing-and-matching until I had a complete recipe. To my surprise, it was wonderful. 

Note: You should be able to substitute Jeni's ice cream base in place of the custard base if you would prefer an egg-free base. The amount of milk/cream, and sugars between the two recipes is very similar, though the ratios are somewhat different. If you elect to do this be sure to add 1 tsp of vanilla extract to Jeni's base. 

Strawberry puree ingredients: 
  • 1 pint fresh strawberries hulled, chopped and pureed (about 12 ounces after prep, or 1.75 c of puree) 
  • 1/3 cup sugar 
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon 
  • Zest from 1 lemon 

Custard base ingredients: 
  • 3 egg yolks 
  • ¾ cup sugar 
  • 2 cups heavy cream 
  • 1 cup whole milk 
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract 

Strawberry puree: 
  1. Combine strawberries, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. 
  2. Puree the strawberry mixture (puree even if starting with puree - this helps ensure the sugar is dissolved). 
  3. Put back into the fridge to chill thoroughly. 

Custard base (while the strawberries are chilling) 
  1. Combine egg yolks and ¾ cup sugar in a bowl 
  2. Whisk until thick and pale. 
  3. Combine milk, cream, and vanilla in a 2-quart heavy saucepan. 
  4. Heat, stirring constantly until it reaches approximately 160 degrees, then remove from heat. 
  5. Spoon cream mixture by ¼ cupfuls into egg mixture and beat between each addition until about ½ of cream mixture remains. 
  6. Add the eggs/cream mixture back into the saucepan with remaining cream. 
  7. Return to medium heat, stirring constantly for 4-5 minutes until mixture coats the back of a spoon, and temperature is 180 degrees. 
  8. Remove from heat and chill thoroughly. 

  1. Just before churning, add strawberry puree to custard base. 
  2. Add to ice cream maker, and follow the manufacturer directions from there. 

Note: I originally reserved some strawberry chunks to stir into the ice cream, but they made hard frozen bits. Now I just puree all of the strawberry - it's much better that way.

Sunday, January 31, 2021


 46° 42' 57.5" N, 92° 32' 20.9" W
Summer, northern Minnesota

It was hot and muggy (how could it not be muggy in the land of 11,842 lakes?) and the knitter sat on her porch trying not to freak out as mosquitoes flew into her face.  In the summer she could only handle knitting hats - they were small enough that they didn’t drape her in warmth. Even so, her hands still got a little moist, and then the yarn wouldn’t pull through her fingers properly. The knitter sighed and adjusted her hold, wrapping the yarn around one less finger to fix the tension.  Her hats had to be perfect.

She slapped another mosquito, and looked down at the bag full of hats at her feet. She could see the pre-printed shipping sticker for Supplies for Scientists.  They distributed hats and other gear to scientists doing field work in cold climates. She almost had enough hats ready to send a box off, which she did every summer, and even had special labels to sew into these hats. She wanted the scientists to know how much she appreciated them.  In her opinion, they were saving the world, and it was a damned shame they didn’t have the money to outfit their efforts properly.

46° 42' 57.5" S, 87° 27' 39.1" E

Winter, southern Indian Ocean

The oceanographer expertly kept her balance on the deck of the science vessel Antipodes as she guided the tiny remote-control submarine back to the surface. She had been taking samples of water at different depths to better understand how zooplankton and phytoplankton interacted.  Food webs were complicated, and if the ocean environment was thrown too far off by rising temperatures and acidification, then the rest of the world would suffer.  

The submarine - she couldn’t help thinking it was rather cute, though its looks belied its sophistication - broke the surface.  She guided it back to the Antipodes until it was over the crane basket just under the surface of the water.  Her intern worked the deck crane controls to bring the the sub onto the deck.

A big wave hit and salty spray pelted them. They both stumbled slightly before regaining their sea legs. The oceanographer shivered and pulled her favorite wool hat down further over her forehead and ears, and helped her intern collect the samples and stow them for further study, and to bolt the sub down so it couldn’t be washed overboard. They couldn’t afford to replace it again, and already depended too much on donations as it was.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Los Charros Breakfast

 Developed by Chris and Cathy Weeks with shameless borrowing from many different sources.

This breakfast was inspired by a wonderful meal our friend Paul H. treated us to many years ago at Taqueria Los Charros, in Mountain View, CA (hence the name of the recipe).  A charro is a Mexican rodeo horseman that wears an elaborate traditional garb (ruffled shirt, silver embroidery).

Ingredients (for entire breakfast)

  • 1 15-ounce can of pinto beans

  • 1 28-ounce can of crushed or chopped tomatoes (we used 2 10-ounce cans and that worked OK too. I like the fire roasted ones, or the ones with chiles)

  • Long-grain rice (we used brown basmati)

  • 1 onion, medium, chopped

  • 1-2 jalapeños, chopped

  • 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped (we omitted as we used garlic broth)

  • 2 limes, juiced (or 4 tbsp lime juice)

  • 1 lime, wedged for serving/garnishing/squeezing at the plate

  • Fresh cilantro, chopped (1/4c for the rice, more for topping at time of serving)

  • Broth (original recipe called for chicken broth; we used garlic broth; any flavorful broth/bullion cubes are fine)

  • Cooking oil

  • Ground cumin

  • Ground coriander

  • Cayenne powder

  • Garlic powder

  • Salt

  • Eggs for scrambling (1 or 2 per person)

  • Queso fresco, crumbled (shredded cheddar or Monterrey Jack may be substituted)

  • Avocado slices for serving

  • Tortillas (corn, warmed)

Mexican Rice/Arroz Mexicano

  • ⅓ c cooking oil

  • 2 cups long-grained rice

  • 1 onion, medium, chopped

  • 1-2 jalapeños, chopped

  • 20-28 ounces of canned tomatoes

  • ½ tsp ground cumin

  • 1.5 c broth of your choice or bullion concentrate

  • 1 ½ tsp salt (omit until the end, and add to taste when it’s done - bullion cubes often make it salty enough)

  • 4 tbsp lime juice

  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro

  1. Put ⅓ of a cup of cooking oil (we used peanut) in the bottom of the Instant Pot. Turn to sauté mode and heat oil until it shimmers. 

  2. Add 2 cups dry rice to the oil and sauté for 5 minutes.  The goal is to cook the dry rice until it’s golden/toasty looking. It will smell wonderful.  

  3. Add the onion and sauté for 3 more minutes, then add the jalapeño and cook for another 2 minutes. Turn off the Instant Pot.

  4. Add the canned tomato, broth and cumin.

  5. Set the Instant Pot to high pressure. Cook 4-5 minutes for white rice, 15 or so minutes for brown rice, with a 10 minute NPR.  

  6. Release pressure and taste rice for doneness. If too firm, reset the IP to pressure and cook it a little longer.

  7. When it’s done, adjust the salt levels if needed, then add cilantro and lime juice and fluff it.


  • You can use any kind of long-grained rice - we used brown basmati. Be sure to cook/pressure cook the rice long enough for the type of rice you use.  It doesn’t need to cook quite as long as rice normally does, due to toasting the rice at the beginning.

  • The original recipe has you blend the tomato to make a puree. We just dumped it from the can as is, preferring to make it chunky

  • We adapted this base recipe, to be both vegetarian, and made in the Instant Pot: 

  • We used this recipe for IP techniques: 

  • We used 2 cups of broth as called for in the original recipe but it was a little too wet. The IP recipe used 1.5 cups of broth, and that amount would be better.


  • 1 can pinto beans undrained

  • Ground cumin ½ tsp

  • Ground coriander ½ tsp

  • Cayenne powder ½ tsp

  • Garlic powder ½ tsp

  • Salt to taste 

  1. Dump the can of beans, liquid and all into a saucepan, and heat through. 

  2. Add the spices and salt to taste (the amounts are approximate, we didn’t measure, so adjust to taste).  

  3. Mash with a potato masher (we like our frijoles to not be perfectly homogenous, so we leave it a little chunky).

  4. Add salt to taste.  

  5. If too thick, add a little Corona or Tecate to thin it, or leftover broth from the rice.

Putting it all together

  • During downtimes, heat some tortillas - I’ve had best results by wrapping the stack in damp paper towels, putting them into a ceramic tortilla warmer and microwaving for 30 second or so.  Putting them between two plates also works well.

  • Slice the remaining lime and an avocado into wedges.

  • Scramble the eggs.

  • Sprinkle some cheese over the eggs and frijoles to get a little melty.

  • Spoon beans, eggs, and rice onto the plates, and place avocado and lime wedges and some cilantro onto the plate as a garnish and serve with warmed tortillas.