Saturday, July 21, 2007

Grand Design

I took this through the fan in my office. My sister Julia playing Spider Solitaire. I hate her. She always wins everything.

Friday we went to see "Body Worlds" at Discovery Place in Charlotte. This is an exhibition of real human bodies and body parts that have been preserved with a method called plastination. The bodies are essentially soaked in a plastic product and a vacuum is created that causes the plastic to soak all through the fibers.

That sounds really gross. And many people will not go to see this exhibit because they will be grossed-out. But there really is no way to explain to people how utterly un-intimidating this exhibit is without having them see it. That's a shame.

The exhibit is terribly expensive. It cost $50 for Nate and I to go see it. That included parking and the audio phones we rented. You really have to use the audio phones. You can see everything and understand everything by walking through and reading the signs, but the audio tour really is pretty cool. The exhibit is mostly about the bodies themselves, of course, but also about the plastination process.

About five minutes after entering the exhibit, I came upon a display case showing joints. There was a hand, shoulder, and maybe an elbow. I don't remember that third one for sure. But what struck me was the hand. The audio narrator said the joints are designed so that motion is possible in multiple directions. But what struck me was when the narrator said, "The joints are coated with cartilage to reduce friction."

That is what the phrase "fearfully and wonderfully made" really means. And that phrase, from Psalm 139:14, echoed through my head as I spent the next two hours wandering through the exhibit.

It became easy to see God as a divine engineer, making decisions about this invention, and working out "Well, if I make it able to do this, I'll have to do something about this problem that could crop up."

That was the main thing I took away from the exhibit. The other thing I thought about was, "I sure am glad that I take good care of this body." Seeing all the muscles and organs, in stages of great health and also in serious disrepair, made me realize even more the importance of fitness and health. There was a cross-section of an obese person that really struck me to the core. As I looked on to these two slices of a person, I could see how the fat was so hard on the body. How the organs were laden with the weight. It's amazing how some of those organs are able to function at all. And this particular person had a pacemaker installed.

The exhibit of the obese person made me want to help overweight people as much as I can. It's a terrible burden to bear, both physically and mentally. And our society is not kind to people who struggle with this issue, even though more than half of us are overweight.

Seeing all the muscles was pretty cool. Most of the people who were preserved were obviously in pretty good shape. You could see this superior muscle definition and it was neat to see the individual muscles and muscle groups that our jazzercise instructors are always pointing out, "deltoids, rhomboids, lats, obliques, quads, etc."

There were three things I wished as I was going through the exhibit:

1. I wish the first third of the exhibit weren't so loud. The entrance is in an area of the museum where there are lots of noisy, hands-on exhibits to play with. There are walls separating the traveling exhibits from the rest of the place, but at the beginning of the special area they don't go all the way to the ceiling. It's hard to hear the audio in that environment, and it diminished the serious nature of the exhibit. I remember thinking that about the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, too.

2. I wish there were special times that could be designated adults-only. Like an evening or two. The kids were well-behaved (in fact, the only people I saw leaning on the cases were ADULTS(!!)) and it was cool to see them marvel over the exhibits, but their chatter and excitement was also a distraction to the seriousness of the displays. Especially in the prenatal section.

3. I wish the exhibit were smaller. I was worn out by about half-way through and I know I didn't give enough attention to the displays in the last half.

I'm recommending this exhibit to everyone I know. But cautioning those with young kids that it can be very tiring.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Kids Kids Kids

Yesterday was a day full of kids. It was fun, but I got pretty tired and dragged out by the end of the night...when I finally turned in at MIDNIGHT (!!)


It began at about 6:30 a.m. in a way most of our combined family gatherings do: Jeff and I both companionably working on our computers. Usually he goes out for coffee, but yesterday he let me make him some. (I think he was diluting it with the water, though.)


Then Julia got up and did whatever she does and settled in the comfy chair with a magazine. Here she is putting in her dessert order for the day.

Here's how the guys began the day, and pretty much would have ended the day, if not for Vacation Bible School. I call this "Boys Town." I never heard a thing from them all day except when they called to ask me to buy a 4th controller for their game console. But I didn't get to that because I was pulling in the driveway when they called.

So, after a bit of just hanging around the house in the morning, Julia and I and my niece Jessica set out to run some errands. Jess needed a swimsuit. Target seemed like the place to go.


This is where the visit took the first dark turn. I was wandering down the aisle in Target, when I heard my sister say my name. I turned around and she had grabbed the sleeve of an unsuspecting healthcare worker (scrubs), and was saying, "THIS is the color on the walls at Mount Vernon!" Now...she says she prefaced that by saying to the woman, "this is a nice color on you but..."

I was fairly mortified. I said the poor woman, "I'm so sorry! Don't worry, she'll be going home in a few days and then Target will be safe again." And then I said to Julia, "Please do not grab the sleeves of strangers!" The stranger was chuckling and I think enjoying it.

I think.

Then 5 minutes later Julia knocked half a shelf of hair care products onto the floor with her
big *ss purse!

Needless to say, I was ready to get out of Dodge.

After several attempts (in the heat, I might add)to locate a complete swimsuit for Jess (did you know they sell the tops and bottoms separately? So now you can find a top that you want, but there is no matching bottom?), I finally called my bosom buddy Rena. She is shopper extraordinaire. In fact, she was out shopping during her lunch hour when we called. After chuckling at the thought that I, of all people, would be shopping with a teenaged girl, her advice was "Go to the mall. Buy a cup of coffee, sit down with it and your mp3 player and just let the girl go." She always knows exactly the right advice to give, tailored for my particular sensitivities (to noise, commotion, girls, name it).

And so we did. But I never did get the cup of coffee. We walked into JC Penney's and found what she needed. Whew!

So after several stops on the way home to gather provisions for supper, we finally arrived, with me about $200 poorer. Isn't that just the way it works? The driver, who sets out not needing anything, ends up spending the most.

I commenced with supper prep during what I affectionately call "The Arsenic Hour." During this period of the day, which is usually about 2 hours long, not really 1, everyone is arriving home, hungry, full of questions, full of activity, I'm cooking supper and cleaning up dishes that have accumulated for the day, all the phones are ringing, etc. The arsenic hour has always been rough for me, but when you add a second family into the mix...a family who, just like ours, likes to parse each sentence, each phrase, ask lots of follow-up tends to make me very very jumpy. At one point I sent this text message to Rena:

door open
door shut
eat eat eat
tv computers
dart guns
whine whine whine...

All I can say really is that it's nice that I have good drugs. Otherwise this could have ended up with the sound of a gunshot.

After supper was over, I got a call telling me that the hot air balloonist was about the arrive at one of the local vacation Bible schools. So I grabbed my camera and headed out, with the cheesecake I was making for Jeff barely started, and the supper dishes not done.

I was gone for 2 hours, standing around in the heat outside, but I did get to visit a tiny bit with my friend Jenny. And shot a couple of photos of her adorable little girl, Katherine:

And then, I came home, baked a cheesecake, watched a rerun of "House," and caught up on my email.

I never did get any wine.

Today? Who knows?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

8-Ball Zucchini

Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic
Can you stand it? Aren't these just the most adorable zukes you've EVER SEEN?

No idea why someone would feel they needed globe-shaped zukes, but they are cute as a button, aren't they?

My sister and her family have arrived at our house and are sleeping now. They've been vacationing in New York and D.C. and are winding up their eastern trek at our house. We were planning to meet in North Myrtle for a few days, but they said they are just tired of vacationing and want to lay around the house. That's fine with me!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic
It's the hap, happiest time of the year....

Annual Eggplant Rave

Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic
It's time for me to rave again about the eggplant. This was the second big one I've gotten from the farm. We also get some of the long, skinny variety...Japanese eggplant. I like the globe eggplant because it makes for nicer frying. I often use the Japanese variety for stuff like soup and stew.

My cooking is generally low-impact for the food item, and low-fat, making it low-impact on the body as well. But I can never resist frying up eggplant at least a couple of times each summer. If you keep your oil at the right temperature, you'll cook the eggplant through without having it soak up too much fat. It's difficult to coach someone in that, though. I could probably site optimal temperatures for the oil and slice thickness for the 'plant, but face it...most folks will not go to that trouble. I can tell you, though, that last night I used peanut oil instead of my usual canola for this. Just because I'd run out of canola. I'd never fry this in olive oil...too much flavor from that oil. So the peanut oil? I think it turned out to be the best batch yet. I'm not a food scientist (nor do I play one on TV), but I imagine the reason for that is because peanut oil has a much higher smoke point, so I was able to have it hotter without danger of it going ballistic on me.

Last night I served the eggplant mostly out of necessity. I was running out of time and was actually looking around for some Morningstar Farms Chik Patties. But alas! All gone! (need to add that to the grocery list. Hmm..and canola oil)

So I started hurling items out of the crisper drawer again and here was this eggplant I'd forgotten about. AND some zucchini and yellow squash!

The last bit of Panko from the cupboard(grocery list again-check!), some pre-prepared bread crumbs for when the Panko ran out, and I was in business.

Classico spaghetti sauce. Hey we scratch-cookers don't always have time for homemade spaghetti sauce. Classico and Barilla are the only two brands I'll keep around.


Eggplant Parmesan always goes well with my guys. And it's quite filling.

And of course, I had the added satisfaction of knowing the eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash all came from the farm. Another "farm dinner!"

Sunday, July 15, 2007

"It's-Monday-Night-and-I-Have-to-Use-Up-Last's-Week's-Share-Before-I-Get-More-Tomorrow" Soup

Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic
Ok. You can call it "Farm Soup" if you want:

I started out thinking I would make Ratatouille. And really, I guess that is what this soup is. The french dish is essentially a vegetable stew of tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, garlic and onions, all sauteed together together and seasoned with herbs. It can serve as a main course or a side dish. And sometimes as a filling for crepes.

Mine is essentially a "garbage soup." Open up the crisper drawer and start pulling stuff out.

GET OUT YOUR BIGGEST POT! This soup is like taco just runs away from you.

In olive oil, saute garlic, onions and diced carrots, if you are using them, until they begin to soften. I then added celery, eggplant, leftover savoy cabbage, and green peppers. I also threw in a jalapeno pepper because I had them and my guys like a little zip. I drizzled a little more olive oil in there and stirred it around just so the veggies were coated and woudn't stick to the pot. I also seasoned with kosher salt and pepper and sprinkled in some Black & Red pepper blend (This is from Penzey's and is a wonderful blend of ground red pepper and black pepper. Yeah, I could do that myself. But why?)

I sprinkled just a little dried oregano, basil and thyme in the veggies, slapped on the lid and let them cook on medium-low for about 6-8 minutes.

Then I poured in some Harris Teeter version of V-8. Here's why: 12-year-old Taylor talked me into buying a big jug of it two weeks ago and then decided he didn't want it. After it'd been opened, of course. No sense in letting it go to waste. I also dropped in a bay leaf.

And that's how my ratatouille became SOUP!

After I brought it back to a simmer, I tossed in some FRESH basil, thyme and oregano from my little herb pots on the patio. If I hadn't had fresh ones, I would have put in more of the dried versions earlier.

So I tossed in the chopped fresh herbs, 1 medium zucchini cut up into chunks, stirred it, waited about 5 minutes, and then served it with crunchy french-style bread.

The veggies were a nice mix of al dente and soft. And there were hardly any leftovers. My guys love this stuff.

If you don't care about how the chopping goes...if you can just let yourself go mad and chop like a can throw this thing together in about 30 minutes.

I promise.