Friday, September 23, 2016

losing the michelins

In case you were wondering, the results of yesterday's pondering (a lot of bologna) turned out to be delicious.

What you may not know is that there was a back story to the piece -- a back story that simply did not fit into yesterday's essay.

My Mexican friend Julio has been putting on a lot of weight recently. Far too much for his frame and age (early 20s). And he finally decided to do something about it.

After consulting a nutritionist, he restricted his diet and returned to the gymnasium. Combined with a regimen of walking, he has lost an amazing amount of weight. He looks and feels far healthier.

When I was a member of the Air Force Reserve, I constantly struggled with my weight. All of the military services have maximum weight standards. The last few years I was associated with the Air Force, I constantly pushed the lard ceiling.

I tried a number of fad diets. Slim Fast. Weight Watchers. The cabbage soup diet. The orange-banana-beef diet. They all worked for a bit. But it always came back to exercise and food restrictions. I had to burn the calories I was eating if I wanted to fit into the equivalent of a bus driver's uniform.

Julio has now switched to a targeted ketogenic diet. It is one of those current fads that uses scientific terms and some accepted metabolic theories that promises great results. The diet equivalent of Scientology. But it appears to be helping Julio keep on track.

I told him that every fad diet I have tried has ended in tears. I passed out on a toilet at our business headquarters while I was on the Slim Fast diet. Like some horse junkie.

On Weight Watchers, I consistently lost weight. But I left the program during Thanksgiving when the woman directing the program suggested that those of us who were on the program should use tinned no-fat gravy on our turkey.  It was her reasoning that broke my will. She chirped: "You will not be able to tell the difference from real gravy."

Julio spouted a similar line he had learned from one of the ketogenic missionaries: "The only reason to eat food is to fuel our bodies. It has no other purpose." The fat-free gravy babe and the Pope would feel right at home with that logic. It is the logical equivalent of "the only reason for sex is to produce babies."

Well, that is not my philosophy of life. Of course, my philosophy has left me looking far more like Bibendum than Brad Pitt.

I have decided to take action. Barco is helping me with the exercise part of the equation -- to a degree. I walk him four times a day. Most of the walks are at a rather slow pace because he likes to indulge the bloodhound genes in his ancestry. He can savor the smallest smell in the verge longer than an

A couple of weeks ago I discovered a step counter application on my telephone. I now know how many steps I take daily, how far I walk, and how many calories I burn. When Barco is in traveling mood, the counter brings good news.

But, if I am going to get serious about losing weight, I need to get back to my morning 4-mile walks. That will be beyond Barco's patience level. At least, for now.

Then, there is the intake side of the equation. One of the best diets I tried in the early 1980s was the rotation diet. Instead of merely restricting calories, it alters the amount up and down to avoid the body's ability to re-set its metabolism to make up for lower calories.

The diet offers a three-week set of menus with foods from most of the food groups -- but in small portions. The variety appealed to me. It is not one of the "no" diets -- no carbohydrates or no fats or no foods that begin with the letter "c." I found it easy to comply with the menus even when I was on the road prosecuting ne'er-do-wells.

The diet is the source of one of my favorite lemon chicken recipes. There is even a spaghetti sauce recipe -- with ingredients similar to my own. What is different, of course, is the serving size. The diet restricts the spaghetti to one cup. I suspect I eat that much spaghetti testing it while it cooks.

Losing weight is not a big deal. Keeping it off is.

The rotation diet attempts to teach the eater that it is possible to eat a variety of foods if portions are controlled. What threw me off was its its maintenance stage that prohibited some of my favorite foods -- olives, pickles, pickled ginger, pepperoni, cheese. That was my lunch plate today.

But, if I am serious about taking off weight, I will need to cut down on a lot of things. I suspect pickled foods are going to stay on my diet. But in limited quantities.

For now, I am clearing my shelves of food I will not touch during the diet. I know me. If they are there, I will cheat. If I have to buy them, I will at least have to exercise my moral agency.

Barco, of course, thinks I have come unhinged. Food is what makes life worth living. I agree.

But I will be enjoying it without Michelin being written across my belly.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

a lot of bologna

It is Italian night at the house with no name.

Well, what passes for Italian in my cultural milieu.

When I was a mere bambino, I believe my first exposure to spaghetti was out of a Franco-American can. It never occurred to me then that a brand name extolling its roots in Joan of Arcville was a misappellation. But, when you are eating mushy pasta from a can, its provenance seldom pops to mind.

At some point, my mother began whipping up her version of spaghetti with meat sauce. It was a staple in our house -- especially when my father would rev it up with jalapeño peppers and Bandon extra sharp cheese.

There is a classification of food that is eccentric to all of us -- potato salad, chili, spaghetti, pizza, tacos. If we grew up on it, we think that is how each dish should taste. No matter how dreadful it is.

For years, if I requested spaghetti, I meant spaghetti with meat sauce. The version I developed personally carried no other descriptor than "spaghetti." Just "spaghetti."

I suspect it was in England that I first encountered the name "spaghetti bolognese." It was essentially the same spaghetti with meat sauce I ate as a child. In fact, that is what my English friend, Dr. Robert Wells, called it -- children's spaghetti.

When I returned to The States, I noticed the "bolognese" adjective on a number of menus in spendier Italian restaurants. There is nothing like a little foreign language to pad prices. By the time I moved to Mexico, even Denny's was using the term.

And it appears here in Mexico, as well -- on the tourist menus. There is a heavy Canadian influence in this town. "Bolognese" most likely jumped the Atlantic from England, and then made its way south in the palates of temporary and permanent immigrants.

That is what I am cooking up. Spaghetti in red meat sauce. But it is not "bolognese." Let me come back to that in a minute.

My blogger pal Felipe commented the other day on the peso exchange rate for US dollars. It is true if you are buying pesos here with Benjamins, you are getting a good deal.

However, I told Felipe that exports from The States continue to be a financial wash. I still pay the dollar equivalent for American imports. He responded: "So you’re right where you’ve long been, especially food-wise, which is the majority of imported goods for you, I’m thinking."

On that point, he is not absolutely correct. I suspect I buy more imported food items than most people in my neighborhood. But, not very much from The States.

Look at the photograph at the top of this essay. All of the vegetables, the chopped meat (not to be called hamburger -- a perfect topic for a future essay), and most of the herbs, spices, and salsas are Mexican products. The spaghetti and the pepper are from Italy. The olive oil is from Spain. The wine (the base of my spaghetti sauce) is usually from Chile -- this time it is from California. The remainder of the herbs, and the tomato paste are from The States.

Overall, it is quite an international affair. One of the wonders of trade globalization.

But what it is not is "bolognese" -- in the style of Bologna. All of those tomatoes and the olive oil unmasks the fraud.

Classical Italian cuisine has a great divide. The north relies on butter and cream for its dishes. The south is the land of olive oil and tomatoes. I am certain you will not be surprised if I tell you Bologna is in northern Italy.

If you order spaghetti bolognese in Bologna, do not expect anything that resembles what came out of those Franco-American cans. In fact, you will get nothing -- unless you are in a tourist restaurant.

However, it is possible that a plate of spaghetti with veal and a bechamel sauce will arrive, instead. If it does, dig in. You will find it far superior to any red meat sauce you have had on spaghetti -- unless you are still hooked on your mother's.

As for me and my house, we are having the red meat sauce I have developed over the past fifty years. And I intend to enjoy every last drop.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

at home with barco

East coast Americans of a certain class adopted the Victorian custom of "at home" days -- when well-bred ladies could call on other well-bred ladies.

I have never been a well-bred East coast American lady (though the current political milieu gives me license to claim I am anything that pops into my pretty little head). But, I know all about such social arcana from my early introduction to Emily Post's Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home.

My copy was used -- from the musty little book store shoehorned between my parents' motorcycle shop and our insurance agent. I suspect I bought it for the "in politics" part of the title. But it did arm me with enough information to discuss the proper placement of fish forks at formal supper parties.

But fish forks are not at issue today. Being "at home" is.

I decided to stay home to monitor Barco's recovery. I needn't have bothered. Late last night, he was back to his "open the bedroom door: I want out -- now, open it again: I want in" routine.

Today, he is working on his proof that Plato had objective reality backwards. Barco is convinced that the shadows of butterflies, dragonflies, and hummingbirds flying across our courtyard are real; he has no interest in the living things that cast them. He has spent most of the morning running full tilt in search of his personal Dulcinea.

My sole job is keeping him out of the pool. For that, I should be fired. My success rate is lower than Obama and Bush's middle east policies. He manages to slip into the pool almost every time I turn my back. To just sit and contemplate whether Wittgenstein may be more plausible than Plato.

I am so seldom at the house during daylight hours, I miss the regular callers who prowl the neighborhood. This morning, it was the young ladies from the health department who search through the open spaces of houses to ferret out breeding pools for mosquitoes -- especially, the dreaded and far-too-common
aedes aegypti.

They were here today on an important mission. To me, they were the next victims of my faltering Spanish. I do not get to talk with people very often. So, when I have visitors, I pepper them with all sorts of questions in hopes of starting a conversation.

The three young women reacted as if I were one of those pathetic northerners who attempt to pick up local young women. They were polite and professional. But they hastened their retreat to the street. In my defense, Barco was even more insistent in getting them to pay attention to him.

So, it appears The Dog is returning to normalcy -- as Warren Harding would have it. He is still walking a bit funny. As a result, I have truncated our four daily walks.

Even so, it is good to have an "at home" day. If I am lucky, maybe the Jehovah's Witnesses will show up for an extended theological discussion.

Monday, September 19, 2016

the unkindest cut of all

I am not the best person to invite to a birthday party.

My greatest failing as a birthday guest is that I seldom bring a gift. And I am not certain which is worse -- failing to bring a gift or to bring a gift as bad as Maleficent's.

Barco celebrated his first birthday last week (he is an adult -- not). And, in true Steve Cotton style, I brought nothing to the party. Well, I brought the cake, the candle, and the party hats. But no gift.

I made up for it today. In the spirit of the classic Gary Larson cartoon, I took Barco to the veterinarian this morning to get tutored. Let's call it the gift that keeps on giving.

There is a very good argument that I should have had him neutered months ago. I just did not get around to it.

For that, I have paid a price. During the past couple of weeks, he has discovered girls. All of his female dog friends (perras, in Spanish) now need to be extremely cautious. He has gone from play-fighting to slipping in that special wrestling hold reserved for fathering puppies.

The testosterone has also poisoned that part of his brain that once let him distinguish which dogs could turn him into chopped meat. A month ago, every dog was his friend. Recently, every male dog is a potential enemy who needs a good talking-to along with a doggy thrashing.

Of course, I could have avoided all of that had I had him "fixed" months ago -- before the testosterone reservoir burst through its weir. The reason I didn't is easy to understand -- I was simply being sentimental. I can hardly write the word castration without feeling a bit queasy.

My Mexican neighbors and friends have been unanimous in their disbelief that I would do such a thing to my dog. Most of them understand spaying. But castration? Not on my watch.

I dropped him off this morning with Dr. Andres. This afternoon, I returned to pick up a very groggy dog, who could have given a drunken sailor a stagger for his money.

For the first time in nine months, he tried to climb into the car on his own. He was determined to get away from the vet's office as quickly as he could.

When we got back into the house, he looked at me as if to say: "Whatever it was I did, I am really, really sorry." But that remorse lasted about one second. He headed straight to the pool, and was in it before I could fish him out. He is not supposed to get his stitches wet for a week.

So, here we are. I am at the computer. He is asleep at my feet (something he never does). And what was once a very arrogant dog is now doing his best impression of a post-surgery patient.

In a week, I should have an idea if the red tide of testosterone has been brought under control.

By the way, if you invite me to your birthday party, I promise to bring an equally appropriate gift.

Friday, September 16, 2016

marching to the beat of independence

The people are marching in the streets.

Fortunately, it is not those annoying teachers, again. It is as if La Marseilles had come to life with its call to marchons, marchons! and let impure blood soak the fields.

Today is Mexican Independence Day* -- the day, in 1810, when Miguel Hidalgo (that is an impersonator of him up there -- the boy wearing the Yoda head gear) called his fellow conspirators together to throw off the oppressive yoke of Spanish colonialism and to whip up a batch of carne molida espa
ñola.** (There is a tendency to slip into Marxist palaver when describing these events.)

And when Hidalgo exhorted his followers to "Kill the Spaniards!", they took him at his word. The rebels met their first real resistance at Guanajuato, where the Spanish had barricaded themselves in a public granary. To no avail. When the rebels took the granary, they slaughtered over 500 Spaniards. Men, women, and children. The Spanish, of course, responded in kind.

The war puttered along indecisively for eleven years, and ended only when a creole general,
Agustín Cosme Damián de Iturbide y Arámburu, fighting for the Spanish crossed over to the independence side. For his efforts, his reward was to become the first post-Cortés emperor of Mexico -- as Agustín I. As so often happens in Mexico, he eventually ended up in front of a firing squad.

That is what we are celebrating today in my little village. When I took Barco out for his morning walk, I could hear the blare of badly-tuned bugles. That could mean just one thing -- the school kids were parading through town.

Usually, Barco has no interest in hurrying up to see something I want to see. But there were kids involved, and he is a sucker for the attention of children.

There they were. All lined up to celebrate not being a colony of Spain.

I met a Mexican teacher in San Miguel de Allende a few years ago at another Independence Day parade -- far more fancier than our local fare. I commented on how well the students marched. He responded: "Yes, they march very well. But ask them to read or to add." He sounded a bit frustrated.

But march they do. And they play music. No school would be worth its name name without a drum and bugle corps.

Those of you with a sharp eye will note a distinct division of labor. Girls play drums. Boys play bugles,

The girl in front at your right is my neighbor. I asked her if girls ever play bugles in the band. She looked at me oddly, and said: "No. Girls play drums." Glass ceilings were not on her mind.

The streets were not crowded with spectators. Most appeared to be family members shooting away with their camera phones.

And why not? This is the type of event small communities do well. I had trouble getting to the front of the parade because I stopped to talk with people I knew. That is exactly what these events are about.

They are not about piles of dead Spaniards or a patriotic priest with a hairdo as remarkable as Donald Trump's or
fireworks in the evening. They are about creating relationships.

Well, for some people, the event may be about piles of dead Spaniards. During a pause half way through the parade, one of the girls impersonating a symbolic historical figure decided it was time to hack up the girl pretending to be a Spanish lady.

Who says these students don't know their history?

* -- Despite what northerners think, Cinco de Mayo is not the Mexican Fourth of July; that honor belongs to 16 September. See cinco de mayo is not spanish for beer.

** -- Spanish chopped meat.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

picking the right one with helen gurley brown

Remember those far more innocent days when the check stand magazines would carry "A Quiz to Find Your Perfect Mate"?

Inevitably, the answers would end up in some cultural cul-de-sac, and the quest would remain as elusive as the Holy Grail.

Well, those tests are back. But they are now tarted up as a logical tool to assist us in choosing the presidential candidate whose views most closely match our own.

One of the better quizzes can be found at I Side With. I like the methodology -- even though I am not certain its intricacy captures accurate information.

The quiz measures responses in 11 categories of issues: social, environmental, economic, domestic policy, health care, electoral, education, foreign policy, crime, immigration, and science. Several questions are asked under each category with multiple choice answers provided. The test-taker can then give a weight to each question.

When all of that is thrown into the algorithm black box, a match rating appears for each of this year's six presidential candidates.

I was prepared to be a little bit surprised. After all, I detest both of the major party candidates. But I was curious how the rest of the mix would turn out. I thought Gary Johnson would be my first choice (even though he has taken some very non-libertarian positions on religious liberty this year.)

But he did not come top of the heap. Evan McMullin did -- and even then I disagreed with his position on issues one-third of the time. Because there are no traditional conservatives in the race other than him, I undoubtedly connected at some level.

And you can see how the rest shake out. It is no wonder I still have not decided if I am even going to vote for a presidential candidate.

What I find most disturbing is the Trump rating. It is far higher than I expected it to be. And how can a quiz like this measure whether there is agreement with a candidate like Trump whose background is decidedly leftist, whose current appeal is populist, and who contradicts his own positions on any given day?

And who am I to talk? I suspect if I answered the quiz in another week, my answers would be markedly different. But, then, I am not running for president.

I do know I will not be voting for Evan McMullin, though. His name is not on the Nevada ballot.

It may be time to start tossing that proverbial coin.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

he is an adult -- not

Today is a special day in the house with no name.

Barco is one year old.

For almost any other breed of dog, that would mean he had become an adult and that he would put aside puppy things. But that is not what happens in the world of golden retrievers. Most of them remain extreme puppies for two years and transition into moderate puppyhood until about the last year of their lives.

The problem is that his puppy brain now resides in the body of an adult dog. He is markedly smaller than Professor Jiggs, but he is still large enough to bulldoze almost anything out of his way.

Oh, and there is the other aspect of having an adult body. About two weeks ago, he discovered girls. Rather, he discovered that Güera, who has faithfully served as his surrogate mother, aunt, and guardian, is a girl dog. Testosterone has a way of altering male perspectives.

Even though she has been spayed, his nose is directed at her tail when she accompanies us on our walks. If she stops, he stops. If she runs, he runs. And if she lets down her guard, he starts acting like a Kennedy. Güera will have none of that. She puts him in his place with a quick snarl and snap.

I had considered repairing the screen doors and replacing some of the gnawed woodwork when he reached his first birthday. But, to Barco, this is just another day on the calendar when he gets to greet Dora, run like a crazy dog, and give us all the promise of many more years of his antics.

Feliz cumpleaños, Barco. May you dream of a world of sock piles where no one ever tells you "no!"