Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas dinner: A figgy pudding

Figgy pudding

A few days ago, Donald said he wanted a figgy pudding -- like in the song, "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." Neither of us had any idea what it was. It became a days-long research project! We found info in Wikipedia and even a YouTube video of a cooking demo, which seemed like it used the Wikibooks Cookbook recipe. For all I know, the demonstrator was the same guy who supplied the recipe.

All these sources -- and in fact, most of the sources I looked at -- ignored or were ignorant of what we learned was the central feature of figgy pudding.

More of this post coming up soon!

Christmas dinner: Roast duck with spinach and shallots

Roast duck

We made some variations to the method given by Alton Brown on the "What's Up, Duck" episode from a few years back. A year or so ago, when we first made duck, we followed his instructions pretty much exactly. It's the only other time I recall ever having duck. Steaming and then roasting is a method that originated in China -- so I read in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.

Here's the five-step essence of Alton's instructions:

  1. Thaw
  2. Cut in quarters, reserving wings and backbone for later use
  3. Brine and season 1.5 hours (he gives a pine-orange juice and fresh sage recipe)
  4. Steam 45 minutes
  5. Roast in a cast-iron pan that's been heated in the oven. (leg quarters first 10 minutes, then add breast quarters and roast another 10 or so)

This time we made some variations:

  1. Thaw
  2. Cut in seven pieces, reserving wings and backbone for later use
  3. Rub with 2 tsp. salt, Italian seasoning and black pepper; fridge overnight
  4. Steam 45 minutes
  5. Roast in a steel (not stainless) restaurant-style frying pan that's been heated in the oven.

Delicious. I preferred this seasoning combo with the strong duck flavor over the pine-orange-sage that Alton recommended. Just a personal taste thing, I suppose, but I wanted to let the duck flavor speak for itself more. Especially since it's something I'm not familiar with. I got a much better sense this time of what duck is actually like.

We cut the duck in more pieces, because, really, who wants to sit down and eat 1/4 of a duck? Too much.

Spinach with shallots
Sauteed in the pan that we roasted the duck in. Simple. Marvelous.

Christmas 2007

Christmas! Last night we put out cookies and buttermilk for Santa, in a Santa head mug. Also a pot of water on the floor for the reindeer. I never heard of that, but Donald said they did that when he was a kid. I got up later to empty the water except for a little, make the cup look like someone drank it, and arrange a convincing spray of crumbs and cookie shards on the plate. And put out the presents, of course. Forever, I've been arguing against introducing a Santa Claus myth. But now, the first Xmas he's old enough to be aware of Christmas and Santa, I dove headlong in. It was just too much fun to resist.

Ulysses's "big presents" from us were a Kidizoom camera and a motorized Hot Wheel track that shoots the car up around a loop-de-loop and around the track with enough force to get it back to the starting point, so it can loop around again. Donald found that went he went out for presents a few weeks ago. The New York Times featured the Kidizoom camera a few weeks ago; we bought it from Amazon, and a week later they were sold out -- scalpers were selling them for three times the retail price! I guess it's a hot toy. We like it because it's a fun toy that lets a kid be creative, rather than something with close-ended "learning games." Ulysses also loves it. He immediately began taking pictures of everything, including his breakfast. And holding it at arm's length to take pix of himself. Just like a real art student.

For breakfast, Don made his famous sourdough pancakes -- see his blog for many more details. He set the starter out overnight, so it was all super-healthful fermented grain. What amazing, complex flavor. And so light and fluffy. Served with Wisconsin pure maple syrup.

For lunch, we had long spaghetti with Newman's marinara, fortified with local Usinger's Italian sausage and sautee onions and red peppers. Spaghetti might not sound so special, but in the context of our low-carb regimen that we've been following since March, it was a special treat! The same goes for the pancake breakfast.

Christmas dinner: see separate post.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Adorable Christmas anecdotes

We put up our tree and holiday decorations for the first time since Ulysses was born. He is just bubbling over with cuteness over it.


Yesterday, as Donald was clearing space for the tree, I brought out a Little Golden Book that we've had for years, Baby's Christmas, and started leafing through it with Ulysses. I pointed to a picture of the jolly old man in red.

"Do you know who that is?" I asked.

Ulysses nodded and smiled. "Candy Claus!" he said.


I showed U the box that the Christmas tree was in. "Christmas tree!" he said. It's the same box the tree came in, so it has plenty of pictures and descriptions of the contents. A six foot tree. We got it at Target in the mid-1990s, the first or second year the store was open there on Lien Road, on the site of the old Lien farm -- barn and all stood there, within city limits, right up until that time.

I opened the box and we took out the sections of tree together. We fitted together the stand and the three sections of tree. I began fluffing out the branches, which have to be pressed together to fit in the box.

"Christmas tree," Ulysses said, watching me work. "I'm happy."

"You're happy?" I said.

"Yes," he replied, nodding. Smiling. "I'm happy."


At first, Ulysses didn't like it when he saw Donald was clearing off his train table, packing up his wooden tracks and bridges, boxing up his toy trains. When he realized Donald was emptying that corner of the living room of U's toys, he jumped out of his chair and ran over in a panic.

"It's OK, Ulysses," said Don, "We're making space for a Christmas tree!"

"We're having Christmas," I said.

"We're putting up the tree for Santa," said Don. "He's coming with presents!"

Ulysses begin to cry. "No! Don't do that! No touch!" It was clear that he didn't get it. And he didn't want to listen anything we had to say about it, either. His voice rose to a scream. "No!"

"Abort mission!" I told Don. "We'll pick it up again later."

But Don wasn't ready to give up. "I'm going to get the Christmas train from the closet," he told Ulysses. He headed towards the office. Ulysses continued to protest. "No, Tata! Mama! No!"

The Christmas train is a toy Donald and I bought at least ten years ago. Maybe it was the same year we bought the tree. It's decked out holiday style; it plays loud, electronic carols; instead of coal, the car behind the engine brims with presents. Every year before U was born, we had set up the track to circle the tree.

Earlier this year, U noticed it -- in its original box -- high on a shelf in the office. Just a corner of the packaging was visible, but it was enough for train-crazy Ulysses to recognize it as a train, a fun, colorful train, that for some reason we weren't allowing him to play with. "That's for Christmas," we would say. Every once in a while, he would head to that closet, or simply point towards it from wherever in the house he happened to be. And beseech whichever of us was around: "Train! That train!"

It had been months since he had mentioned it.

I watched U's face as Donald walked into the office and turned towards the closet. I wanted to see if he would figure it out. He did, while Donald was still out of sight. It was a terrific payoff.

His brows were knit together and his mouth was pursed in a frown. Then all at once, his brows shot up, his eyes went wide, his jaw dropped. Just as suddenly, his face lit up in a smile.

It was finally happening! The forbidden train! It was coming out!

Donald emerged carrying the train box. He set it down near Ulysses. He went back to work clearing the toys and trains and train table from the Christmas tree corner.

He got no complaints.

Eight glasses of water myth

Several years ago I found an article online about a researcher who debunked the eight glasses myth. Since then, I've tried and tried to find it again. Finally, here's a reference to it!

From the Web site of the British Medical Journal, a publication of the British Medical Association:

Revealed: The seven great "medical myths"
Fri Dec 21, 2007 10:19am ET

An excerpt of the article:

People should drink at least eight glasses of water a day

The advice to drink at least eight glasses of water a day can be found throughout the popular press.w1-w4 One origin may be a 1945 recommendation that stated: A suitable allowance of water for adults is 2.5 litres daily in most instances. An ordinary standard for diverse persons is 1 millilitre for each calorie of food. Most of this quantity is contained in prepared foods.w5 If the last, crucial sentence is ignored, the statement could be interpreted as instruction to drink eight glasses of water a day.w6

Another endorsement may have come from a prominent nutritionist, Frederick Stare, who once recommended, without references, the consumption "around 6 to 8 glasses per 24 hours," which could be "in the form of coffee, tea, milk, soft drinks, beer, etc."w7

The complete lack of evidence supporting the recommendation to drink six to eight glasses of water a day is exhaustively catalogued in an invited review by Heinz Valtin in the American Journal of Physiology.w8 Furthermore, existing studies suggest that adequate fluid intake is usually met through typical daily consumption of juice, milk, and even caffeinated drinks.w9 In contrast, drinking excess amounts of water can be dangerous, resulting in water intoxication, hyponatraemia, and even death.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I thought the fourth bro was Zeppo?

Get this. I made a spontaneous joke at work and the punchline was "Marxist."

Everyone laughed except a (college grad) 25-year-old woman who said she had never heard that word.

People said, "You know, like Karl Marx?"

"Karl who?" she said.

Long white beard? Changed the face of planet earth? One of the two or three most influential people over the last 150 years? In response to which the entire foreign policy of America and much of the domestic policy revolved for most of the second half of the 20th century?"

She had no idea. NO IDEA! Who we were talking about. It should go without saying that how anyone in the room felt about Marx one way or the other is irrelevant -- in fact, it didn't come up. The point is, how can an American adult be this blasted ignorant about something that important?

When we were in the trying-to-jog-her-memory phase, I said, "You know, like Lenin?"

"Well, I've heard of him!" she answered, a little hotly. Defiantly.

"Not John Lennon," I said.

Everyone laughed. She didn't say anything. To this day, no one knows whether or not she truly had been thinking of John Lennon at that moment.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The iPhone Musical

Our TiVo picked this up back when it originally played last summer. I greenlighted it because Ulysses loves it so much.

We hadn't watched it for months. Then, yesterday, our copy of Readers' Digest came in mail. On the cover is an iPhone-like gadget, equipped with cartoon devil horns and tail -- to show that all this technology and connection is bad, bad, bad. Ulysses recognized it as an iPhone.

It's the first brand name I've ever heard him use.

The only place he's seen one is in the pictures within The iPhone Musical. So we flipped to the video and watched it over and over and over last night, and this morning, Ulysses joyously singing along, and mimicking Pogue's moves.

All very cute. Even the part when U broke down into earnest, quiet tears when he realized that we don't have an actual iPhone. I told him, "iPhones are just in the song!" and that seemed to cheer him up. I know that method's not going to last much longer. I sure am glad he doesn't see commercials! (Thanks, TiVo. And DVD.)

Favorite bits for singing along to:

  • When the kayaker shouts, "What the...!"
  • When Pogue sings, "But God! This thing is sweet!"
  • When the wavy-haired singing guy says, "Cool!" with his thumbs up
  • When Pogue's voice is distorted while he sings, "AT&T"

When U was younger -- this summer, that is -- he also loved these parts:

  • When Pogue drives off in the car (U'd say, "Beep! Beep!")
  • When Pogue looks at the store display of batteries (U'd cheer, "Barries!" recognizing them as those wonderful things that make toys go.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Mindless weight-loss advice, courtesy US government

Below is a post I made on the lowcarbfriends.com forum this morning. Here's a link to that thhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifread, where you'll find responses to my post:


I wrote in response to the following USA Today article which someone had posted there.


Brian Wansink, one of the nation's top experts on eating behaviors and the author of Mindless Eating:Why We Eat More Than We Think, hopes that in his new federal job he can take a stab at reversing the obesity epidemic.

Wansink, who last week was named executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, wants to encourage people to "bump up their activity level." And he would like to work with registered dietitians and schoolteachers to help them teach others to use the government's nutrition tools, including the Food Pyramid (www.mypyramid.gov).

He'll also be forming an advisory committee to create the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These would be a science-based update of the 2005 federal guidelines, which are considered the gold standard of nutrition advice.

Wansink says it took about 30 years for obesity to get where it is today, and "it's going to take some time to reverse it."

He is taking a leave of absence from his job as director of Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab.

During the past 20 years, Wansink has conducted more than 200 studies of environmental factors that push Americans, sometimes unconsciously, to overeat. He believes that people are constantly "trapped" by their surroundings into consuming 100 to 200 calories more than they need or want.

He says Americans can trim a couple of hundred calories a day and lose 10 to 20 pounds a year by doing things such as avoiding open food dishes at the office, using smaller serving bowls and spoons, and leaving serving dishes on the stove instead of on the table.

His research includes the McSubway Project, a series of studies that examine the habits of fast-food customers. Much of the research compares foods at McDonald's and Subway, which advertises that it has more healthful options.

Wansink found that there's a "health halo" around a lot of the foods at restaurants such as Subway in which customers feel virtuous about their choice of meals. So, his research shows, they overeat in side dishes and grossly underestimate the number of calories they consume.

Thanks for the post.

Wansink is obviously well meaning. Too bad his ideas are totally off-base. What we've been doing for the past 30 years is:

  • Cut down our intake of dietary fat
  • Increase our intake of carbs
  • Include the liver-pummeling, belly-fattening high-fructose corn syrup that's now listed on practically every food product on the shelf.

The myth that shaving 100-200 calories a day from our diets will translate to fat loss over the course of time is exactly that: a myth. It's never been documented or demonstrated. On the contrary, what science shows is the the body simply adjusts to maintain its state.

The activity myth is also just that. People today are less active than they were 100 years ago, but more active than 30 years ago, when it was considered eccentric, rather than virtuous, to go for a daily run or belong to a gym. Is Wansink unaware of the studies in which obese individuals trained and completed marathons without losing pounds? For those individuals, his advice to "bump up their activity level" is clearly off-target.

The target Wansink misses is carbohydrate, whether simple or complex. That's what drives fat accumulation. To borrow a phrase from Dr. Michael Eades, it's a "one-way street" -- the pathway from sugar and starch into the fat cells via insulin. HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) is even worse. It's doesn't cause insulin production, but goes straight to the liver, from which it is stored as fat, mainly in the tissues surrounding the organs.

The Food Pyramid concept on which Wansink pins his hopes for America's slimming was introduced about 30 years ago -- just around the time that the obesity epidemic began. The rate of overweight had been more or less stable for decades before that. Before "lowfat" was declared the universal dietary standard for everyone age 2 and over. Back when the common wisdom held that pasta, bread and lollipops are fattening.

Wansink wants to reverse a 30-year trend, but he wants to do it by intensifying the very approach that 30 years of experimentation have proven wrong.

How many more bodies and lives must be sacrificed to obesity and chronic diseases before authorities look at what the science shows, and call an end to this devastating experiment in public health?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Unearned praise

Here's a comment I made in response to a post on New York Times blog "Well."

A tale of automatic, unearned praise:

When my son was about a year old, I enrolled him in an 8-week swimming class for babies 0-2 held at a local elementary school and sponsored through the public school system.

We went to the first class together, but weren’t able to attend the second week.

A few days before the date of the third week’s session, we received a letter from the school system notifying us that the pool had closed for renovation and would not be operational again for several months. (No refund was available, but that’s not the point of the story.)

Two months later, my son received a gilt-edged certificate in the mail praising him for completing the 8-week swimming program.

— Posted by VesnaVK

The original post/article was by Tara Parker-Pope and titled "Are Kids Getting Too Much Praise?" The URL and article text follows below. The premise of the article intrigued me, but I thought the article itself was put together in a slipshod way. Many of the readers' comments nicely expose various logical gaps.

The examples of good praise vs. bad, for example, I think are all examples of bad praise -- they don't get specific enough with their specificity. More useful than "You did great on your math test," for example, might be, "I notice that you can see how little parts fit into a big pattern," or "Practicing all those addition problems over and over really paid off when you took your math test."

I also like the idea that I got from -- I think it was the book "Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline," which is a horribly uncatchy title, although it makes sense when you parse it. That author suggests asking a child what they think of a particular accomplishment or creation, rather than automatically jumping in with a compliment. This is especially true, I think, when the topic at hand is something the child might have some uncertainty about. Tuning in to see what sort of emotional guidance the child needs is, I think, better than assuming that cheerleading is always the answer.

For instance, "How do you feel about that math test?" might be a useful conversation opener. Even if the grade was perfect, the answer might be, "I wish I'd studied harder," or "It was too easy -- it didn't feel like I even did anything." Imposing a positive statement like "You did great on that math test!" at the outset might shut out the possibility of real conversation.

Then there's the comparison made between the Korean vs. American kids. The study that the NYT and Scholastic articles describe didn't measure how much praise the children were given. It measured how good the children thought their math skills were, and how good their math skills actually were.

Even if it turned out there was a difference in praise given the two groups, the difference in achievement could result from any number of other factors. So might the difference in how the children describe their skill levels.

Some readers commented that the Korean culture values humility while ours encourages statements of self-confidence. In any case, the fact that few Korean students say they excel at math tells us little.

Here's that NYTimes article:

An excess of praise may be doing kids more harm than good.

A cover story in this month’s Scholastic Instructor magazine asks whether kids today are “overpraised.'’ The concern is that by focusing on self-esteem and confidence building, parents and teachers may be giving real goals and achievement short shrift. The article cites a recent study in which eighth graders in Korea and the United States were asked whether they were good at math. Among the American students, 39 percent said they were excellent at math, compared to just 6 percent of the Korean eighth graders. But the reality was somewhat different. The Korean kids scored far better in math than the over-confident American students.

The notion that you can praise a kid too much is heresy to parents and teachers who have long believed that building self-esteem should be the cornerstone of education. If kids believe in themselves, the thinking goes, achievement will naturally follow. But confidence doesn’t always produce better students. Scholastic cites a 2006 report on education from the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center that found that countries in which families and schools emphasize self-esteem for students lag behind cultures where self-esteem isn’t a major focus.

The problem with this “rah-rah mentality,'’ as the magazine describes it, is that it can take away the sense of satisfaction that comes from genuine achievement. “Self-esteem is based on real accomplishments,” Robert Brooks, faculty psychologist at Harvard Medical School, told the magazine. “It’s all about letting kids shine in a realistic way.”

The downside of too much praise is that kids may start to focus on the reward rather than what they are learning. Worse, failure can be devastating and confusing for a student whose confidence is based on an inflated ego, rather than his or her actual abilities, the magazine notes. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t praise our kids or that teachers shouldn’t try to engender self-confidence. But self-esteem should be the result of good grades and achievement, not false accomplishments.

Last month, Cognitive Daily reported that parents and teachers should be specific rather than general when they dispense praise. An example of general praise is telling a child, “You’re smart.'’ Specific praise would be to say, “You did a good job reading,'’ or “You did great on your math test.'’ Kids who receive general praise about their abilities are more likely to exhibit “helpless” behavior when they encounter problems with learning, compared with kids who receive specific praise about their achievement on a task. The reason: a child who knows she’s a smart girl feels defeated if she has trouble reading a sentence. But a child who has been told she is a good reader is more likely to have confidence in that specific ability and work a little harder to tackle a more difficult book.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving 2007

Hard to believe it's our fourth Thanksgiving with Ulysses, and our third time having it at home as a family of three.

This year we were joined by our friend Michelle who lives in Altadena, California, one of the three dear, lasting friendships I was lucky enough to form while I lived out that way. She was at her mother's place, where she's living now, sort of in between situations, and she visited us via Skype! That is, we had a video window open on the MacBook, so she could see and hear us and we could see and hear her.

To make it even more strangely appropriate, she was fasting today. I didn't ask why, but I figure it has something to do with her recently becoming a Buddhist. She had been planning to volunteer at a charity Thanksgiving dinner today, and had even gone earlier in the day and been sent home until later, but her transportation fell through at the last minute. Our gain -- we kept connected right through our Thanksgiving meal and beyond. Considering that she wasn't planning to eat a bite anyway, it was just as well that all we could do was hold all the yummy stuff in front of the iSight camera for her to ogle.

Here's the menu:

  • Roast turkey (no stuffing -- trying to cut a few carbs)
  • Gravy
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Molasses-apricot candied sweet potatoes
  • Sourdough biscuits
  • Green beans
  • Chilean Merlot

I must say, it was the most delicious Thanksgiving meal I can ever remember eating. We must be getting really good at cooking!

I baked a pumpkin pie, too, using canned pumpkin and the exact recipe from the Libby's label. That's a novelty for me -- usually I buy a pie pumpkin from the farmers' market and take it from there! But it didn't come out of the oven until around 7:30. Those things aren't good until they've cooled completely, which takes at least a few hours. So we'll have that tomorrow. I'm going in for a regular day of work -- I took Wednesday off instead of Friday to help smooth out the holiday drop in personnel -- so that means I'll be waiting until dinnertime to sample the pie!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Driving games

Simpsons Road Rage. Project Gotham Racing. Choro-Q. ATV Off-Track. Ulysses loves driving games. Not teaching games for kids. Real games.

Tonight when I came home from work, he kept asking for the green car. Usually, "Green car, green car!" means he wants to go for a ride. Usually it's accompanied by, "Ride! Outside! Socks! Shoes! Hat! Shirt! Pants! Come on, Mama!" (Usually he's dressed in a diaper, and that's it.) And him running around assembling what he needs to get going.

But tonight, he dragged me into the bedroom, where the Xbox is, and picked up the controller pad. "Green car! Green car!" I rifled through discs until he showed me the right one: Project Gotham Racing. We booted it up, and he picked out a green car -- a Cooper Mini -- to drive.

Soon he was speeding through the streets of virtual London in his green Cooper Mini.

(Every once in a while, he'd get lost in the menus between games. He'd dash out to the kitchen and fetch me back, saying, "Run, Mama! Run!")

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Gibanica, Guzvara: a flaky, savory cheese pie

This is a classic dish among Serbians. Gibanitsa (pronounced GEE-ba-nee-tsa), or guzvara (GUZH-va-ra), as near as I can figure, belongs to a class of savory cheese-and-sheet-pastry dishes known as pita. Others include burek, zavijaca, uvijena pita zeljanica and just pita.

It's made with pastry leaves, stuffed with a creamy, savory, feta-based filling and baked into a golden-brown, flaky pie. Like other custard-based dishes, it's best served at room temperature, and is tastier the day after making. I don't know what it is about baked egg-and-dairy things -- quiche, cheesecake, pumpkin pie -- but they are oddly tasteless when you pull them from the oven. Its got to be something about the protein coils of the egg and milk being tightly wound in the heat, and then relaxing so that the flavor can be released on the tongue, or something like that. If anyone knows, I would love to find out.

For the pastry dough, filo is used in America. That's the paper-thin dough used in baklava. These days, it's not hard to find in the freezer section of supermarkets, as well as European ethnic groceries. But some say a thicker-leaved product called "kore" should be used. The dish is originally more rustic than the delicate sheets of filo make it.

The name "guzvara" is a form of a verb meaning "to crumple together something that's drenched." This refers to the practice of dunking the dough sheets into the filling, and placing them, soggy and loosely crumpled, into the pan, The pan is first lined with flat sheets of pastry. The creation is covered with flat sheets cut to fit the pan. The overhang from the bottom sheets is folded over the top. Then it's baked. Traditionally, it's round in shape and served upside-down.

Years ago, I found a gibanica recipe on the Internet and made it several times. This year, I was distressed to discover that I'd never printed out or saved a copy, and it took me hours to find it again. (Thanks, Donald for suggesting dejanews.com) Here it is. A man named Vojin Janjic in Chattanooga, Tenn., posted it on soc.culture.yugoslavia in 1996! Is the Internet amazing, or what? Vojin's post includes a lot of background detail that's missing in the other recipes I found on the Net. The recipe itself also has cool features that the others lacked.

No other recipe that I found made any mention of the dunking and squashing. All were layered dishes, like baklava. I suspect that "gibanica" can be either layered or else dunked and stuffed, and that "guzvara" is the variation that's specifically dunked and stuffed.

Many used a combination of regular and low-fat cottage cheese (the latter of which is, of course, a fabricated, additive-filled abomination). What's up with that? Some didn't even use feta, or the flavorful Serbian "white cheese" that authentically belongs in the dish. Well then, why even bother?

Another difference in this recipe: sparkling mineral water. I'm not sure what that's for. Since mineral-laden water is base, and leavening agents work by pitting acid against base to form explosively foamy chemical reactions, I speculate it's for puffing up the giba. (Buttermilk + baking soda works like this. Baking powder does, too: it's a combo of acid and base powders that react in the presence of water or heat. (Double-acting baking powder has two combos: a liquid activated and one heat activated.)) But what's the acid? Maybe the tangy feta.

Vojin has you separate the eggs and beat the whites stiff. You fold it into the cheese-egg mix for added puff. Easy enough. He says you can substitute baking powder, but he doesn't recommend it.

For all this attention to leavening, the giba is not especially airy. It's dense and moist. Maybe the idea is that without these steps, it would be leaden. As is, it's just right.

What follows is based on Vojin's post. Some of his instructions were incomplete or admitted guesses. I've written here the specifics that I've found to work, and some clarifications of method. The words below are my own. (Don't you hate when people copy and paste into their Web pages with no attribution?)

3/4 package filo (phyllo) dough
[11/15/2009: This post originally specified a full, one-pound package. But in 2008 I discovered that with less dough you get a prettier, puffier, much cheesier pie. And with 25% less starchy carbs!]

2 cups (2/3 pound) feta cheese, crumbled
1 cup sour cream
1 cup ricotta
3 tablespoons of sparkling mineral water
2 eggs, separated

olive oil for greasing pan

First, prep the baking pan. A clear, deep, round casserole is ideal.

Generously grease the pan with olive oil. Gently press a sheet of filo into the dish, letting the rest hang over the edges. Repeat with another sheet, placed crossways from the first. Repeat for a total of four sheets. Use scissors to trim the overhang all around to a length of about 2".

Take a stack of four filo leaves. Use scissors to trim them into a circle that just fits inside the top of the casserole dish. This will become a lid a little later on. (You do it now so that you don't run short of filo at the end.) Put it aside.

Stir together yolks, feta, sour cream and ricotta. If mixture is stiff, thin with a little milk. Stir in mineral water.

Beat egg whites stiff. Gently fold into cheese mixture.

Dunk a sheet of filo into the mixture. Gently crumple it and place it into the pastry shell you've created. Repeat until all the filling is used. You'll want to keep one hand clean for picking up the filo sheets, or have a friend pass you the sheets.

Place the filo "lid" on top. Fold the overhanging rim of filo over top. Cover with foil.

Bake at 400F. Bottom should appear crunchy and golden brown (this is why a clear dish is handy). The top should also be browned. You can remove the foil to help along the top browning. Don't worry about overcooking, as long as nothing's burning.

After it's cooled a bit, turn upside-down onto a platter. Serve when completely cooled. Also great chilled.

Enjoy! Or, as the Serbs say, "Prijatno!" (PREE-jat-no)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Slava 2007

Slava! I described this Serbian family holiday in this post from last year.


This year we ended up moving the celebration to the Saturday after Nov. 14, and our friend Gigi (formerly called Michelle in these pages) came and feasted with us. This time I started cooking when I got up at 7 am, so by the time I went to pick her up at 6:30, everything was ready. I was actually able to sit and enjoy a meal with a guest, instead of cooking through the courses. What a concept.

On-the-vine were, mercifully, on sale. Sliced, with olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

I made my family kolach as described in the recipe I published in Isthmus several years ago. For the first time ever, I dared to made a change: 2 cups whole wheat flour and 5 cups AP, instead of 8 AP. It turned out quite different: more fluffy and grainy, a lighter, less densely cake-like texture. Very nice. Slava and Christmas use bread, but the Slava kolach is undecorated. This recipe makes two crockpot-liner-filling loaves.


I made the same fantastic djuvec as last year (recipe and explanation in the link above), with one variation. Instead of 4 pounds country-style ribs, I used 2.25 pounds pork belly and nearly 3 pounds country-style ribs. I asked Gigi what she thought of this djuvec versus last year's. She said she liked this year's better; that it seemed "meatier." No wonder! At five pounds instead of four, that's a 25% increase in the amount of pork in the pot!

On Wednesday, I had purchased over four pounds of pork belly at the Angkor Thom Market, the Cambodian grocery where I like to buy less mainstream cuts of meat. Pork belly sounds awful to the delicate ears of most modern Americans who for some reason don't mind eating meat products that really are revolting, like anything containing "mechanically separated chicken." It's the part of the hog that's used to make bacon, and it's a slow-cooking, full-flavored cut that keeps good body even after it's cooked tender. That last feature makes it forgiving in dishes like this one; it won't disintegrate into the pot. I think. I haven't used it much, so I was eager to try.

What I didn't realize was that it's sold with the tough, thick skin still on. That amounted to nearly half of it by weight! So I ran out to Pierce's (closer) for more pork. No pork belly there, of course. Hence the country-style rib.

Anyway, the extra meat helped improve the ratio of starchy carbs (from the rice) in the dish. I toyed briefly with the idea of leaving the rice out entirely, but then it wouldn't be djuvec anymore; just oven-cooked stew.

The most miraculous thing about this dish, to me, is how you don't need to add a drop of water to cook the rice. All those vegetables have enough locked up in their cell walls. It all expresses while cooking, and the rice is ready to absorb and transform, using the flavored veg liquid to soften and puff. It's a beautiful, complementary alchemy.

A baked pastry casserole filled with a savory feta blend and served at room temperature. I'll give a fuller description and a recipe in a separate post.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Too cute: Noodle word

Ulysses wanted me to make him macaroni and cheese tonight. I gave him the choice of any of the shapes that we had on hand. We like to make stovetop mac 'n' cheese from scratch, which is almost as easy and exactly as fast as the boxed, surprisingly enough -- just a simple white sauce of flour and butter whisked together over a medium flame while the water comes to a boil, and a bunch of parmesan or other cheese stirred in and left to melt, flame off, while the pasta cooks.

He picked Annie's natural in the purple box, which we also like to have on hand. We stir in cottage cheese for extra nutrition, and we use whole milk or cream and butter for the same reason, and to tip the starch balance down a little. After all, the more fat in the dish, the less pasta the appetite will require.

Oh yes, the word. All the while, U was calling them "doodles."

I'm helping him

Thursday, November 15, 2007

What happened to all the "low-carb products"?

Here's a post I made today on lowcarbfriends.com forum. Some one posted the following question:

A couple years ago almost all the stores in my area had low carb sections, now none of them do and restaurants use to have low carb menu's. Now it is extremely difficult to find low carb products anywhere. I just can't figure out what happened.

Welcome, [member name]! That's an excellent question. What happened? Here's my theory.

Low-carb living is not compatible with the economy of highly refined, processed-foods that the Big Food (General Mills, Hershey, etc.) companies are based on.

By their very nature, foods high in sugar and starch allow a high profit margin. In fact, the more advertising and marketing dollars a food gets, the cheaper the actual food substance for the producer. That's a pretty reliable rule of thumb.

Fat is more expensive than sugar and starch. It costs more to produce, ship, etc. Protein is the most expensive of the three macronutrients. Don't believe it? Compare the cost of the cheapest sack of sugar, the cheapest sack of flour, the cheapest jug of oil and the cheapest carton of protein powder.

Big food is based on adding "value" -- or, at least, appeal -- to cheap ingredients. Slicing and frying potatos, baking flour, stirring sugar into colored water and so forth. it's possible to add fat to starch- and sugar-based foods and still keep them cheap and yummy.

But, subtract carbs from the equation, and cheap processed food is no longer possible. All that's left is protein and fat. Low-carb products are of necessity more expensive than high-carb products. They HAVE to be. The reason: low-carb INGREDIENTS are more expensive than carbs.

Companies that were in it for a quick buck couldn't make it. Others are still plugging away in their niche market, providing an ever-expanding variety of specialty products. Check out netrition.com, the partner-providers of this site, and you'll see what I mean.

I think that most low-carbers learn quickly that low-carbing means learning to prepare and enjoy more whole foods than most carb-bound Americans do. The spectrum of processed products is just too narrow and expensive to rely on the same way that carb products allows.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

"I want to eat it"

Finally, today Ulysses used a complete sentence of some sophistication.

The following sentences are all grammatically complete: "Go!" ; "Come back." ; "It hurts." ; "No." ; "Thank you" ; "No, thank you." ; "But, why?" They even express abstract concepts. They've been in his repertoire for a good while now. All except "But, why?" I heard him use that that for the first time yesterday, and plenty of times! Leave it to Ulysses to skip "Why?" and move right on to the more direct challenge posed by "But, why?"

When he expresses more complex propositions, some of the customary words are left out, viz. "What doing?" -- which more recently became, "What you doing?" And which, by the way, yesterday became supplemented with, "Why you do that?" -- presumably part of the same impulse leading to "But, why?"

Today. Ulysses came to me asking for an apple. "Apple, apple!" he said. I fetched one from the refrigerator that Donald had cored per a previous request (then stored when U decided he didn't want one after all). Before I cut it in half, I grabbed the corer and started scraping out the brownness, so that it would be lovely and crispy. Also, I didn't want U to see the brown -- once he saw it, he might be turned off to eating apple for the rest of the day. He definitely wouldn't want to eat that apple. "Apple, apple," U said while I operated, jumping with anticipation.

Then I picked up a paring knife to trim off the wilty collar of peel at each opening. Seeing this, U's body language collapsed into exasperation. This was just too much fussing around.

"I want to eat it!" he declared, pointedly.

"Okay," I said. "It's nearly ready."

"I want to eat it," he repeated. Every word in place. Perfect syntax. A real, full sentence. The kind that speaks volumes, to boot.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Atkins site interviews Gary Taubes

The official Atkins web site just published this interview with Gary Taubes, author of the mind-blowing new book, Good Calories, Bad Calories. Here's the URL to the interview on their site: http://www.atkins.com/newsletter-archive/november-2007-newsletter

They've removed a lot of terrific information from their site over the past few years, essentially dumbing it down. Apparently it's an effort to be more "safe" and "accessible" -- that's just my observation and interpretation. But it's why I'm quoting the interview here. There's no telling how long anything good will stay anywhere on the Web, really.

Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet: An Interview with Gary Taubes

Author and science journalist Gary Taubes has written a new book called Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control and Disease (Knopf, September 2007). The book demonstrates how, when it comes to dietary recommendations, public health data has subjected to twin misinterpretations: a deeply ingrained belief that dietary fat and cholesterol are the root causes of coronary heart disease and an equally damaging failure to recognize the negative health consequences of our increased consumption of refined carbohydrates such as sugar, white flour and white rice. The result has been an increased incidence of chronic disease like diabetes, heart disease, cancers and obesity.

After examining the history of how we got to this point, Taubes calls for researchers and clinicians to reexamine the real science, in hopes that we can become healthier. His book is an eye-opening challenge, both for consumers and the medical community, as we all grapple with the question of what constitutes a healthy diet.

"We don’t need another diet book," Taubes said in a recent interview with Atkins. "We need a book that explains to the medical establishment what’s actually going on, what the real science is and what we should believe until compelling evidence tells us otherwise."

Q: How did you get so passionate about the subject of public health and nutrition?

A: I have a scientific background, and I’m curious and a little relentless about it. I like answers to make sense, and I’m also obsessed with this question of good science and bad science and how easy it is to misinterpret data -- to see what you want to see and not what’s really there. This is what I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life reporting. With this book, I just kept following the evidence. I didn’t have an agenda; I just wanted to know what the truth is. And what’s fascinating about this subject is some of it seems so obvious. It’s sort of insane that we got to a point where obesity -- a chronic disorder of fat accumulation -- is treated as a behavioral defect, but that’s what happened.

The real question we should be asking is: What causes obesity? The same way with lung cancer -- you want to know, do cigarettes cause lung cancer? The same way with AIDS -- does the HIV virus cause AIDS? The answer is critical because obesity is associated with an increased risk of all chronic Western diseases – cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc. -- so whatever makes us fat makes us sick also.

One theory says that “eating too much” causes obesity. Supposedly if you say that obesity is caused by overeating, you’ve solved the problem. Well, you could always ask the next question: What causes the overeating? But for the last 50 years, no one has bothered to ask this question. This has gone along with the assumption that diets only work by reducing the amount of calories consumed.

Q: So how did science get off track when it came to obesity and these chronic diseases?

A: Prior to World War II, the best nutritionists, the best physiologists and the best clinical, medicine specialists were in Germany and Austria. They never believed that obesity was a disorder of overeating. They said it’s a disorder of excess fat accumulation, and the question is: What regulates fat accumulation? They suspected insulin. But since they couldn’t measure insulin levels in the bloodstream, they couldn’t conclusively, logically get to this place where they could blame insulin for this fat accumulation. Then, this school of research just evaporated beginning in 1933 when the Nazi party took over in Germany and vanishing entirely in 1938 when the Germans invaded Austria.

There’s a 10-year gap in obesity research for the second World War. Then obesity research was recreated in the US following the principles of Louis Newberg, who was at the University of Michigan. Newburg has always been convinced that obesity is caused by what he called a “perverted appetite.” Fat people eat too much. The idea is, supposedly, that if you say that obesity is caused by overeating, you’ve solved the problem. Therefore, the discussion is not about what causes obesity because we ostensibly know that already.

And by the 1950s this meaningless concept called “eating too much” had taken hold. Obesity was considered an eating disorder or a behavioral problem. But everybody knows it doesn’t help trying to tell fat people to eat less – after all, they spend their whole lives trying to eat less. If obesity was just about eating less or exercising more, then none of these people would be fat. That’s always been effectively obvious to physicians who take their obese patients seriously.

Imagine if diabetes was treated by psychologists, instead of clinicians. The world would be crawling with diabetics, or even more diabetics than there are already!

Q: What about competing hypotheses during the period the “eating-too-much” theory took root? What was the most popular? Why didn’t it prevail?

A: At one time, you had two paradigms battling it out. And what we’re trained to think is that the paradigm that wins is the one that’s right, but in fact, paradigms win for a lot of different reasons. And in this case the dominant hypothesis won because the people pushing it were influential and the people studying restricted-carbohydrate diets on obese patients were not. And it’s that simple.

All you have to do is read the medical literature back through the 19th century and into the 20th century, and you notice that the standard treatment for obesity by physicians and hospitals was always to get rid of the carbohydrates -- the fattening potatoes and fattening bread and fattening beer. In the 1960s, the conventional wisdom dating back 130 years was still around. One 1963 British Journal of Nutrition article says, basically, “Every woman knows that carbohydrates make you fat.” At the same time, you have this group of people who started studying carbohydrate-restricted diets. In fact, at every obesity conference between 1952 and 1973, the only discussion of dietary treatments of obesity would be one that focused on the unusual efficacy of dietary carbohydrate restriction.

But during the 1960s, two researchers with very dynamic personalities, Ancel Keys and Jeremiah Stamler, gained influences in the American Heart Association. Suddenly the American Heart Association is pushing a low-fat, low-cholesterol dogma without the tests ever having been done to actually prove that it does anything beneficial.

So then you get this mainstream theory that fat causes heart disease. And it just snowballs from there. I was stunned to find out was that what we believe today was determined mostly by about a half dozen very influential, quote “authorities” unquote, in the 1970s. There were literally six to 10 men who hosted the conferences, wrote the textbooks, went to the proceedings and wrote the NIH reports for funding. And we believe what those people believed.

I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. But these people could not have done more harm or killed the underlying science more effectively had there been some grand conspiracy manipulated by the sugar industry behind the scenes.

Q. How have theories with very little evidence taken such deep root in our culture?

A. Most doctors aren’t taught to think like scientists. They’re not taught to be skeptical.

They’re basically trained in med school to receive the wisdom of their professors and to memorize it and learn how to integrate it to diagnose patients. They’re simply not taught to be skeptical of what they’re told.

They're also like anyone else: Once we’ve convinced ourselves that something is true beyond a shadow of a doubt, the natural tendency is to interpret all the evidence to reconcile it with this thing we now know to be true. So even if the evidence actually refutes our hypothesis, we’ll find a way to see it as a confirmation. Or at least to reject it as somehow meaningless.

Another problem is the do-good agenda. Doctors and public health officials and nutritionists mean really well; they want to save lives. So they get an idea: Fat causes heart disease. And they know they haven’t done the studies to really test this hypothesis, but they also know that people are dying out there, by the tens of thousands -- hundreds of thousands -- a year. And they want to put a stop to it.

So what do they do? They take a leap of faith. They say, “Okay, I’m not sure this is true, but I have sufficient reason to believe it’s true, therefore I’m going to tell everyone that I’m right and that they should eat less fat. And in order to get everyone to eat less fat, I have to act like I’m right 100%, because I can’t say, ‘I think I’m right’ or people won’t follow my advice.” So they have to be conclusive. Then they have to get a consensus, so everyone appears right. And eventually the whole business becomes about building consensus instead of doing science.

So these people want to save lives, which is an honorable pursuit. But what’s forgotten in this process is that they never actually proved their hypothesis. They never actually tested their hypothesis in any rigorous way, so they don’t know if it’s true or not. And then they get into the position where they’ve been telling people for 20, 30 years, “This is true! This is true! This is true!” And there are not that many people in the world who can step back from this position and say, “Oh, excuse me, I made a mistake.” We’re just not wired that way. I’m not, you’re probably not, and they’re certainly not.

Q. Do you think your book will have a positive impact?

A. What I tried to do was write a book that spoke both to the inquisitive lay reader but also to physicians and smart people outside the field of obesity and public health who might put some pressure on the people inside the field to think clearly and do real science. And if that happens, anything could happen. But I don’t think we should ever underestimate the ability of the dogma to defend itself.

I wrote it because I wanted to have an effect. I kept telling my editors, "We don't need another diet book. We need a book that explains to the medical establishment what's actually going on, what the real science is and what we should believe until compelling evidence tells us otherwise."

I do believe that some of this will be integrated into the conventional wisdom, over the course of about 10 years. So we might see subtle differences in discussions about the actual cause of obesity; it might turn a little more toward the discussion of the regulation of fat tissue. But it’ll be done as though, “Oh, we knew this all along.” There will be no point at which the establishment will say, “Oh you know, until Taubes wrote this book or until Atkins came along, we actually didn’t know that.” That’s extremely unlikely to ever happen.

One of my hopes is that people will buy this book and give it to their doctors…and not because I want to sell more books, although I have nothing against that. The point is that there are potential side effects to going on these diets. Switching from running your body on carbohydrates to running on fats is a big change. It doesn’t hurt to have a doctor overseeing that, helping you lose weight, helping you break the carbohydrate addiction. But then you need a doctor who’s open-minded, who’s willing to work with you instead of just a doctor who’s going to say, "You’re going to kill yourself" or " It doesn’t matter. All diets are the same, etc." And so ultimately I guess I wrote the book for physicians, who might in turn help their patients prevent and cure themselves of these chronic diseases – obesity and overweight being one of them.

About Gary Taubes

Gary Taubes, author of Bad Science and Nobel Dreams, is a correspondent for Science magazine. The only print journalist to have won three Science in Society Journalism awards, given by the National Association of Science Writers, he has contributed articles to The Best American Science Writing 2002 and the 2000 and 2003 editions of The Best American Science and Nature Writing. His 2002 New York Times article, "What If It's All Been a Big, Fat Lie?" addressed some of the same questions he explores at greater length in Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control and Disease (Knopf, October 2007).

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


We had a great time on Halloween! First, we had dinner at our friends' house and answered the door for a lot of trick or treaters. Every time the doorbell rang, Ulysses jumped up and ran to the door, saying, "I'll get it, I'll get it!" Then he would carefully lift the big candy bowl and stagger to the doorway that Gloria had opened by that time.

Gloria had bought some kind of motion-sensitive electronic witch that groaned and grimaced when people came to the door. She delighted in flickering the lights -- which also made the witch go off -- and scaring the poor children. It was the scariest house I saw in the whole neighborhood! When we got back from our trick-or-treating, Donald told us that while we were gone, one little girl got so scared that she had to go inside to use their bathroom!

Ah, yes, trick-or-treating. Ulysses was all for trick or treating, except that he didn't want to put on his costume! The farthest he got was the red plaid shirt and blue jeans. He loved the red cowboy hat, but that didn't mean he wanted to wear it. He wanted to wear his favorite hat, which is a denim ball cap. So he did not look very cowboyish. Whenever we tried to get him to put the costume elements on, with whatever coaxing we could think of, he just laughed at us and said, "No...ho-ho-ho!" as if we were all just kooky. I tried to just put the vest on him, and he screamed. So I just started touching him with the vest to make him scream. You know, little touches, little short screams. It sounds pretty mean, but I couldn't help it! It was too funny. Don't worry, I didn't really make him upset.

I carried the vest on my arm and wore the hat, and told everyone that he was a cowboy. Nobody seemed to mind! And to think I was so proud of making that gold star and putting together the whole costume. Oh, well. Next year he'll get the idea. I think he had the idea, anyway. He just didn't want to dress funny! Either way, people marveled over how cute he was and gave him candy!

Halloween prep

This neighborhood we're going to also has people who do up their houses to thrill the children on Halloween night. I am looking forward to it!

Unfortunately, the children of our friends are going to be off doing their own thing. Nico, 13, is doing something with his friends and Vicky, 8 is doing something with her friends. Gloria, a mathematician, is working on a grant proposal that's due tomorrow. So it's not the big H fest I've been looking forward to having with them for years.

The good news is that Sigurd is happy that we're coming -- otherwise he was going to be alone all night on door-answering duty.

For the robot costume, last week I got a lot of really cool gold-faced cardboard scraps at work that were being thrown out. I spent some time on the web researching robot costumes and came up with a sandwich-board concept. But then Donald nixed a boxy homemade robot because of safety. He didn't want any hard edges around U's neck, etc. I agreed immediately, once he put it that way.

I took U shopping for a costume on Sunday. I thought it would be best to wait until the last minute. I was really disappointed by the selections -- everything was Caribbean pirates, vampires and ghouls, and a few other characters thrown in.

We went to a thrift store that has a lot of new Halloween merchandise, but didn't find any ready-made costumes that U was remotely interested in. While there, we heard a father mention to his son that there was a used cowboy costume on the rack. Ulysses heard that and got excited by the idea of a cowboy. That costume was way too small, but I managed to find some basics on the regular clothes racks: a red plaid shirt and a denim vest with red piping!

We looked everywhere for a cowboy hat, but nobody has them! We went to a Halloween superstore kind of thing, and stuff was flimsy and expensive, which I was expecting, but not to that degree! $55 for a Thomas the Tank Engine costume. $30 for a Sherrif Woody: an already-beat-up-while-still-brand-new foam hat and a cheesy-looking coverall.

I thought that was so weird, that children's cowboy hats were impossible to find. Next year I'm going to get a jump on things and look for essential props on eBay.

I put out an e-mail at work for a cowboy hat, and someone brought me a red child's cowboy hat today! Someone else brought me a red kercheif.

Remember the gold cardboard? On the computer at work, I drew a sherrif's star -- 5 pointed, with little circles centered over each pointed -- somehow, the circles make it seem really Western -- and the automated computerized cutting machine people were nice enough to offer to cut it out for me. (I was going to hack through it with an X-acto.) I sewed Velcro on the denim vest, and attached the gold star.

So U has a red hat, a red kerchief, a denim vest with red buttons and red piping, a red plaid shirt, a gold star, and blue jeans. I thought of drawing a Wyatt Earp mustache on him, but I think it's better to keep it simpler at this point. He might think he wants the mustache but then get freaked out by seeing it out of the corner of his eye, or something like that.

I can't wait to see if I can get the costume/trick-or-treat concept across. If he puts his costume on, it will be adorable.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Hello, Mom and Dad

Friday evening, Ulysses and I were sitting together on the couch. He was on my lap. He looked at me and said, "Mom? Mom." He turned to Donald, who was in the chair by the couch, and said, "Dad."

Donald and I laughed. "Where did that come from?" we said. I've always been Mama. Donald was Dada, until he became Tata earlier this year. That's Serbian for "Daddy," so I would always refer to him that way speaking Serbian to Ulysses.

Over the course of the weekend. Ulysses gradually replaced all occurences of "Mama" and "Tata" with Mom and Dad. By now, I can't say I've heard either one for at least a couple of days.

There's something so grownup sounding about it. It's freakin' me out!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Butter is the answer

My new slogan:

(the question doesn't matter)

Feel tired? Glum? Anxious? Depressed? Are you too fat? Too thin? Is your food dry and tasteless? Are you sick of dieting? Do you walk around in a mental fog all day? What makes life more fun?


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Now I've seen everything

Ulysses and I went to Pierce's, the small, locally owned supermarket near our home last night. Walking past the apples in the produce department, I noticed a display of clear plastic tubs, each containing 12 ounces of sliced apple. "Garden Cut: A fresh experience," read the labels. Price: $2.99. I looked at the price per pound of the whole apples that these tubs were nestled among: 87 cents.

Is it really that challenging to slice up an apple?

Is there anyone who finds the pre-slicing of a couple of apples to be worth $2, plus degradation in looks and flavor?

When do you need 12 ounces of sliced apple all at once? That's the equivalent of four medium-sized apples. Do you open the package and eat a few slices at a time, then come back the next day to the heap of pre-sliced apple getting yuckier and yuckier? Or is the idea that you can treat your friends and family to a cornucopia of stale apple? It's as easy as popping off a lid! (And earning the amount of money it requires to take home $3. For most people, that takes more time and effort than slicing four apples.)

A bad deal if ever there was one.

There was a Web address: http://indyfruit.com. I tried to find what sort of preservative they used to keep the apples from turning past the moderate shade of dun yellow-brown that they had become from being cut. There was little information, besides the promise that Garden Cut would increase my produce sales and minimize product loss.

Remind me to ask the produce manager at Pierce's in a few weeks how well the sliced apples have been going.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Alert: Kid too smart

Bad enough that Ulysses has hijacked my nice, new MacBook as his personal Photo Booth device. He spends hours switching between effects and taking pictures of himself and his toys. Yes, he can use the trackpad to do all of those things by himself. When the MacBook arrived in mid-September, he couldn't use a mouse -- didn't understand it -- but that's all over now, you betcha!

Here's the rub. Last night, I forbade him from using Photo Booth while I was trying to use the computer at the same time. I was willing to share the screen space, but he wasn't -- was hogging the pointer, so that I couldn't scroll through the Web pages I was reading. So I quit the Photo Booth application. Thought that would stymie him. Wrong.

He unhid the dock (I keep mine on Autohide), pushed the pointer up to the Photo Booth icon, and clicked on it.

He LAUNCHED the APPLICATION! Not, aw, cute baby, he punched a button and something happened. He selected it and purposedly LAUNCHED it!

I was so astounded and impressed that I let him play with Photo Booth for a while. Until I got mad again after not being able to read my Web pages. (Yelling on both sides, and putting the computer away for the night, ensued. When I shut the lid, he said, with finality, "The End.")

Is any of this three-year-old behavior? Or just 21st-century three-year-old behavior? Someone tell me.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Missouri trip, Day 6: Tuesday

Tuesday we drove home.

We stopped in Platteville, Wis. and I got a McDonald's iced coffee to see what all the fuss was about. Donald had never even heard of them. I thought it was the fakest thing I'd ever tasted. Yuck. I got it plain. It was so pumped up with coffee flavors, and so syrupy with sugar. I can see why people like it. Those are all appealing flavors. But once you get turned off to the taste of Fake -- ick.

Missouri trip, Day 5: Monday

Sharon had to go to work today.

Donald and Ulysses and I visited the smallish supermarket down the street, which is much closer than the Wal-Mart, if I do say so, and was so friendly and nice. We bought some coffee that we'd never seen at home, and we got her some kitchen supplies that it seemed she'd run out of. We also bought groceries to make some yummy dinner with. Sharon is leaving vegetarianism after decades of practice, and we've been taking the opportunity to share whatever we know about cooking non-vegetarian food with her. Of course, I can relate to her experience somewhat. But her process is different from mine. Partly it's because she's moving to a country where vegetarianism is practically unknown. Partly, she says, it's because she wants to be an easier mate to her fiance, not that he isn't estatic with her just the way she is.

We got some ground beef and figured we'd teach her how to make a good, basic meatloaf. An endlessly flexible entry in any repertoire.

I got a cute little pie pumpkin at the pumpkin place on Sunday. Ulysses was desperate to have me cut it in half; I don't know why. He kept making cutting motions with the side of his hand. At one point, for a moment he somehow even got hold of our 8" Dexter Russell chef's knife that we'd brought along from home and made as if to do the job himself! Yikes!

I was reluctant to cut the pumpkin, because if I was misinterpreting his request, or if he changed his mind, there would be wailing and gnashing of teeth over the murdered pumpkin. Finally, today after we got back from the market, I cut the pumpkin for Ulysses. He was thrilled!

Then Donald and I had the idea to stuff the pumpkin with the ground beef! I hollowed out much of the pumpkin flesh and spread out the seeds to dry out for toasting later. We mixed it with the beef, and wow! It was one of the best meat loaves we've ever had! We cooked and mashed potatoes, also. And we had tossed green salad. A lovely supper.

Meantime, the day. At noon we met Sharon for lunch at a Burger King that boasts Missouri's largest indoor play structure for children. This thing took 10 entire minutes to climb to the top of! Then you slide down a loooooong spiral slide. That takes about 40 seconds. Pretty long for a slide. You have to work for it! Sharon, Don and I took turns going up the thing with Ulysses. Sharon's energy, as always, amazes me.

Donald and I went to a park after lunch and hiked with Ulysses. We had gone there with Sharon on our last visit a few years ago.

More later.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Visit to Sharon's, Day 4: Sunday

Today we went pumpkin picking at a place called The Peach Farm. Ulysses had a blast. They had a straw bale maze. It was a lot more fun than a corn maze. It had a roof, and it was dark! The ceiling was less than 5' tall, so grown-ups had to lean over and really work to get through it. Very exciting. I was scared whenever I couldn't see the LEDs U's twinkling Thomas the Tank Engine shoes.

Before that, we had lunch at a diner that had all sorts of memorabilia, 50's-ish. It was visually a whole lot of fun. The food seemed like an afterthought, unfortunately. We had a good time there.

When we got to the parking lot there, Ulysses wanted to know what was going on. Sharon told him, "We're going to have lunch." "Lunch," he repeated, thoughtfully. It was the first I'd heard him use that word.

In the evening, Ulysses wanted to go back to the diner! He got his hat and went to the door, pulled at the knob, and said, "Lunch! Lunch!" He was sad and disappointed that we couldn't all just head out the door in the middle of the night and have it be lunch again.

Donald stayed home that day and watched movies and ordered pizza. He had little interest in visiting a pumpkin patch. He had great interest in having a day to himself for once.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Missouri trip, Day 3: Saturday

Sharon and I went grocery shopping. She turned into the parking lot of Wal-Mart, and I was so horrified that she left and drove to a local supermarket!

Today it was raining. Hard.

We went to an ethnic grocery owned by a local man who came from Iraq with his family. A pillar of the community. He recently got into some ridiculous trouble with some government agency just because of where he's from, despite being completely innocent. I can't remember the story now. Sharon told me in detail. Now I have to get the story from her again.

Funny how much the subject of Islam is coming up on this trip. It ordinarily barely exists for me. Apparently Friday night was something called "Eid," the celebration at the end of Ramadan. Sharon and U and I were walking in her neighborhood, and she saw a man and woman evidently dressed up for a nice evening out, heading for their car. The woman was dressed in Muslim-type clothing. Sharon told them, "Happy Eid!" They were thrilled that she knew that it was Eid. I had never heard of it. One of the most important days of one of the world's most populous religions.

What with Sharon moving to Turkey, the topic is coming up regularly. Sharon is atheist. Her fiancee is a moderately religious person in a country where Islam is the religion, so naturally that is his religion. His family is not religious. But the people of the country, apparently, in general are. Even though the separation of church and state has been very complete there pretty much throughout the twentieth century, even more so than in the U.S.

The market was marvelous. Such wonderful smells. They gave us some samples of their homemade baklava. Mmmmm. I bought a packet of spices from Pakistan. I don't know what it is or what to do with it; I can't read most of the label; I'll just put it in a pot with some meat and cook it and find out. I'm sure it'll be good.

Sharon bought ingredients for Turkish burek. Serbians have a similar dish also called burek. It's a layered filo dish made with cheese and spinach. Dill was one of the main seasonings. It was lovely.

We also did some baking. Ulysses helped. Ulysses found that Sharon had an apple Peel-Away corer and peeler. It was all we could do to keep him from peeling every apple in the house.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Visit to Sharon's, Day 2

Sharon couldn't start her car this morning. She said it sometimes acts up, but always starts after a minute or two. We all sat in her van for about 10 minutes while she tried and tried and tried and tried. Finally, Ulysses suggested, "Try the key!"

Very helpful.

It was the perfect day for the car to break down good, because we were there to drive instead. She called the mechanic for a tow, and they had it fixed by the afternoon.

We spent the morning shopping for knives and other kitchen equipment to equip Sharon with some decent stuff. Sharon wanted our advice. I told her that Don was mainly the person to get advice from. He's such a gearhead when it comes to kitchen stuff. We went to restaurant supply stores and a retail kitchen place similar to Bed, Bath and Beyond. What a spree!

We got a couple of things, but mostly Sharon needed some good knives. She got a lovely bamboo cutting board. She also got a special glove that you wear to protect your hand from getting cut while the other one holds the knife and cuts.

Sharon got a diagnosis of breast cancer this spring, and it had gone into the lymph nodes. She had an operation and lots of chemo. And I think radiation, but I'm not sure. She says it's critical that she doesn't strain the arm on the side where the cancer was, or get a cut on that hand, because she could develop a permanent swelling called lymphedema. Hence the glove.

In the afternoon, I dropped off Sharon at her chemo appointment. I lent her my precious copy of Good Calories, Bad Calories to read during the three hours she needed to spend there. I went to the Columbia, Missouri library to work on my Sandra Lee cover story for Brava. Mainly I realized just how much there was to be done in that article, and how far, far, far I was from finishing it.

After picking up Sharon, we went and got her car from the mechanic's. Fast work!

This was the day we got Sonic for lunch. It was so awful. Don blogged about it on his Blogging for Pancakes site.

Sharon and I stayed up late talking. I slept on the couch downstairs with Ulysses. Don got to stretch out upstairs.

Wifi! Sigh of relief.

We're visiting our friend in Missouri who has modem dial-up. All the wifi networks in range are password-protected. 

I'm in a study room at the town library now, to work on an article for a couple of hours.

I'm sure it's been said countless times already, but it's astounding how painful it is to be without easy, automatic broadband access! Just because I have this access, I feel a compulsion to post. And surf, and e-mail. 

OK, now to get to work.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Missouri trip, Day 1

Hooray! We're visiting Sharon, who's moving to Turkey at the end of the year.

We started out from the house at 6 am, and arrived earlier than expected, around 2:30. We took the route suggested by Google Maps when you select "Avoid highways." A lovely ride through Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri farmlands and small towns.

Sharon, Ulysses and I drove to a park with a nice playground in the evening.

Ulysess loves the dogs, Savvy and Piper.

Friday, October 5, 2007

A different vegetarian, but I spoke up!

Folks were talking about making a lunch run to Qdoba. In case you don't know, they're a chain of Mexican fast-food restaurants owned by Jack-In-the-Box, a publically traded (NYSE) company.

One fellow, a vegetarian, asked, "What are the cookies like?" No one answered. "Hard or soft?"

He hadn't directed his comments to anyone in particular, and since no one knew the answer, no one felt compelled to respond.

"Does anyone know what Qdoba's cookies are like?" he persisted. "Does anyone know whether their cookies are any good?" Silence. "Are they hard cookies? Are they soft or what? What are they like?"

Finally, I spoke up. "I'll tell you what they're like." I took a deep breath. "They're made of sugar, cheap corn-derived sugar substitutes, refined white flour, and a whole bunch of high-tech, overprocessed, completely devitalized ingredient crap."

"Thank you, Vesna," he said. "I knew that."

I knew I was on the high ground. My breakfast had been local traditional sausage, free-range eggs scrambled in butter, mixed veg cooked with ghee and extra-virgin, organic coconut oil. My lunch bag was stocked with organic salad greens, homemade dressing, and local, rBGH-free cheese.

There was no arguing who was leaving the smaller carbon footprint today.

Several minutes later, he announced that he was leaving. "Anyone else want anything?"

"Yeah, pick me up a couple of cookies," I said.

He gave me the finger (not for serious).

I smiled a great big smile.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Good Calories, Bad Calories

I'm so excited! My preordered copy of this book by Gary Taubes arrived in our mailbox Friday. I've read a few pages so far, and I'm not disappointed! The key fact about the title and picture: the "bad calories" are in the toast, not the butter. Hooray! A mainstream book that exposes the "great low-fat diet hoax," as Barbara Ehrenreich has said.

In that brief bit, I (1) saw much that I know, but put together all in one place for the first time, (2) saw something presented in a way I'd never thought of before, but that is now so obvious and perspective changing, and (3) learned a fact I'd never known. I can't wait for more!

Now to curl up on the couch with a nice bowl of Palak Paneer (it came with a free CD!) and read a little bit more.

Good Calories, Bad Calories at Amazon.com was ranked at #125 when I checked in early last week. On Saturday, it was ranked #44. Today, it's #43. Still only 5 reviews, though.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Robot Cake

Saturday morning. Don went out to run errands: get the oil changed and tires rotated in preparation for our big trip to Missouri coming up in October, drop off and pick up and the library, pick up grocery essentials that we've run out of, mainly eggs.

Ulysses happened to notice the KitchenAid mixer in the corner of the kitchen counter. "Robot. Oh, robot! Cake, Mama, cake. Robot. Cake!"

Up until a few weeks ago, Ulysses interpreted everything possible in his environment as a train. Zippers on jackets were train tracks, blocks in a row could be pushed like a train, and so on. Abruptly, his obsession shifted to robots. I'm not sure what the trigger was, or if there was a trigger. But overnight, the free-standing dishwasher became a robot while it was in operation, our old webcam that stands on three legs became a robot, and now the red KitchenAid that I love so much had become a robot, too. He wanted to see this robot in action.

Cake -- why not?

"Would you like to make a cake?" I offered.

"Yeah!" he said, hopeful and excited. As if he hadn't actually expected a yes answer.

"OK," I said, measuring what my next words should be. How to do everything that had to be done before cake-making could begin, without tripping the panic switch? What could U
comprehend? He needed to trust that we were really going to make this cake, even though the first thing I had to do involved leaving the kitchen. "He understands a lot more than you think he does," my mother-in-law had told me during her visit in June. "A lot more." I decided to aim high.

"We'll look in a book. We'll find the cake we want to make. We'll read and learn what to do. Then we'll make the cake."

U looked startled. "Book?" he said, incredulous. A non-sequiter.

"Yes. We'll find a cake we want in the book, and then we'll make it. Any cake you want."

He scrutinized my expression. "A ... cake book?" he asked.

"Exactly," I said.

He looked doubtful, but climbed down off the stool he'd been using to admire the KitchenAid closer up. His face seemed to say, "This I've gotta see."

Now came the trickiest sell: doing seemingly un-cake-related things without inciting a riot. "I'm going to the bathroom and I'm going to get dressed. Then I'll clean up the kitchen. Then we'll look in the book and then we'll make the cake." He was carried along by my confidence -- at least, that was my plan -- and didn't complain. I think he might have been waiting to see what random object I was next going to connect to cake. "Clean up!" he echoed, happily.

After a few minutes, I was ready to search. I pulled my Cook's Country 2005 and 2006 compilations off the shelf -- lovely, retro-plaid cover with red cloth bindings -- and hunted fast, while the spell held. I couldn't believe my luck in finding this after a few moments: Quick and easy cupcakes from scratch especially for the parents of toddlers, from the April/May 2005 issue. Could anything be more perfect?

I studied the recipe hastily, then showed it to Ulysses. It was set with a lovely, two-page, full-color spread. "Would you like to make this?" I said. "Yeah," he answered, nodding.

"OK, let's go." I tried to retrieve the book and get us moving back towards the kitchen. "Let's go make cupcakes. C'mon. Let's get going."

He sat with the book, not answering me. "Apple upcake!" he said after a few seconds, pointing at the photo of a cupcake done up like an apple. "Flower! Ice cream! Hey, bird! Bird upcake" I sat back down and looked at the pictures of cupcakes with him. "Hockey ball!" he said.

Hockey ball? That one was frosted white and iced with baseball-like stitches. "That's a baseball," I said.

"Hockey ball upcake," he corrected me. Whatever.

He studied the recipe pages for a few minutes, with running commentary on all the pictures. I responded to all the picture IDs, while studying the recipe over his shoulder. After a few minutes, I supposed this was our new activity, and I let go the plan to actually make the cake. Suddenly he jumped up and ran towards the kitchen. "Come on, Mama! Cake! Let's go! Come!"

Aha! Just as I wanted to study the recipe, so did he. He had taken to heart what I'd said earlier: read, learn, do.

I headed for the refrigerator to get out four eggs. They needed to be room temperature, so I filled a steel bowl with hot tap water to get them warmed up. I opened the refrigerator door, and ...

Donald was out grocery shopping. We were out of eggs.

How was I going to make cake now?

Then I remembered seeing in the 2006 compilation a recipe that dated from the rationing of World War I. It was a cake that used no eggs, no butter. It had come to be called "Wacky Cake" because of the assembly method: Pour the dry ingredients directly into the greased cake pan. Make three wells in the flour mixtures. Pour vinegar into one, oil into the second, and vanilla into the third. Pour a cup of water over top, give a quick, partial stir, and shove the mess into the oven. It's supposed to mix as it bakes.

I found the recipe and showed the picture of a confetioners-sugar-dusted chocolate cake square to Ulysses, holding my breath as I said, "Would you like to make this cake?"

He looked at the picture. "Yeah," he said, happily.

Whew. Now, about the assembly part. Ulysses was standing on the stool by the KitchenAid, looking lovingly at that robot. There was no way I was going to leave the robot out of the process. That was the whole point! I got out ingredients and measuring cups and measuring them out one by one, calling out what I was doing. Ulysses echoed everything, and took each cup and spoon full of powder and oil and liquid in his hands carefully, emptying each ingredient into the bowl. I fitted the KitchenAid with the whisk at his request -- I would've used the beater. We ran that robot just as long as he wanted, and then poured the batter into the wells of a cupcake pan. I told him to stay carefully away as I opened the oven and put in the pan. Then I called him over to flip the light switch. That's our deal with the stove and oven -- it's the one control on it that he's allowed to touch.

I was so proud of how he handled the ingredients, how he listened to all my instructions, how patiently he stood back while I managed the oven. He also listened when I told him the pan coming out was hot.

By the time Don got home and the groceries were put away, the cupcakes were ready to eat. Ulysses was thrilled and so was I, to have something that we'd really baked together. They were pretty good, too, for being made with vegetable oil and water. I joked to Don that these war-ration cupcakes could be marketed as a premium product today -- they're vegan, after all!

But best of all, it was robot cake.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Parent talk

I never get a sense of solidarity when I venture to talk with other parents about parent stuff or kid stuff. I get a sense of separateness. Oddballness. Alienation, even.

Today, in the waning minutes of my workday, a co-worker brought up that this Saturday would be her baby's first birthday. She has three children, the most of anyone in the digital department. Then she made some remark I didn't quite hear about formula. Then I heard her say, "Formula is expensive!" and laugh.

"Formula?" I asked.

"It's expensive!" she said.

"You're not nursing?" I said. I suppose I shouldn't have said that. But I did.

"No," she replied. "I tried to." Then she added, "Not very hard!" and laughed again. Or did she say, "I tried hard" and laugh?

I was completely at a loss. What on earth could I say to that? How do parents talk to one another? It's as if other parents live in a completely different world of parenting than I do. I tried another tack. "So now he's eating food?"

"Oh, yes, we give him Gerber's. Sometimes he wants our food," she said, and laughed again. "But he eats Gerber's, yes."

Again I was confused. If you're looking forward to ending the necessary expense of formula, why take up the new, unecessary expense of baby food?

In my estimation, jarred baby food is one of the biggest rackets I've ever seen. It's little more than junk food for babies. It's got hardly any protein and even less fat. You can't live off it. It's just pureed vegetables with occasional hints of superprocessed meat byproducts. Even the organic stuff uses mechanically separated chicken for its meat products -- one of the foulest innovations of the industrial food age. A jar costs more than half a dollar, even though all it contains is four tablespoons of watery, stewed goo. A few penny's worth -- maybe -- of cooked fruit or veg. And beyond the money, there's so much packaging. All that glass, all that shipping, all that processing, for such a tiny amount of food. A brazen misuse of the earth's resources. It's just a really bad deal from every possible angle.

When I pass by the baby food section of the supermarket, I marvel that the industry manages to find enough idiots to buy enough of its stuff to keep the product lines going. Cooking and freezing little ice cubes of mashed veggies for Ulysses had been so easy and cheap. I'd only done it two or three times, because it was so easy to make so much, relative to the portion size.

I did enjoy shopping for baby food a few times, though. I'm not a fanatic. It was a lot of fun to shop in a completely new food section of the supermarket, to check out a new range of items. It's like getting takeout food once or twice a month, for the fun of it. The food's not as healthful, economical or low-carbon-footprint as what you can make at home -- but there are other reasons to choose one meal or another.

"I think we only ever bought about five jars of baby food," I said. "Mostly for the novelty." I turned to another co-worker, an earthy-seeming kinda guy whose third child is due to arrive in about a month. "How about you, did you buy baby food?"

"Sure!" he said. "We still have baby food. We buy it."

"But it's so expensive to buy, and it's so easy and cheap to make," I said.

"Yes," he said. And he laughed. "That's true!" He shrugged.

I turned back to my computer. I was silent for a moment. "Well, I got nothin'," I said. The two parents laughed, and so did the co-worker who sits next to me. He's expecting his first child in April. "The only thing I would know to say now," I added after another pause, "is: 'But you're playing right into the hands of The Man!'"

More laughter, to my relief. "Oh, I'm not going down that slippery slope!" said the father.

"There's no "slippery," I said. "I jumped directly to the bottom of the slope."

I finished up my work for the day, feeling tongue-tied and separate in a room full of parents.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The perfect cone

After the show, Ulysses and I walked on State Street. The weather was beautiful, and there was still plenty of time on the meter. We ducked into a few boutiques, where I started my new hunt for a handbag.

I love the one I've been using for the past five years or so, but it's just plain wearing out. It looks like a tapestry, in rich, dusky reds, greens and ochres. It has a leather arm strap with a clever zipper all down its center. The strap actually comes apart into two straps, so you can wear the handbag as a backpack. And it has a zipper, which I've come to regard as a wonderful feature for anyone who stuffs their handbag with digital equipment like cameras and phones and important stuff like a wallet and eyeglasses. It has an inner zippered pouch, which is great for someone who gets a small, important object into their hands, like a flash drive or a little slip of paper with a phone number on it or a twenty-dollar bill, and needs to put it someplace really secure and unforgettable while thinking about twenty other things at the same time.

Worse even than fraying all over, the beloved bag's zipper is starting to give out. Do I put a brand new zipper on a beat-up old bag that was $2 at a yard sale in 2001? Or what?

I managed to get U in and out of some boutiques, and found a few things that were close, but I didn't find the right combo of durability, security in closure, and aesthetic je ne sais quois. Meantime, Ulysses was learning a lot about the varieties of objects and environments that will evoke the phrase, "No touch!"

We came upon the Ben and Jerry's ice cream store. I lifted him in the air to face the cartoon ice cream cone painted on the door. "Would you like some ice cream?" I asked.

"Ice cream?" he said, surprised. He regarded the door, and the picture on it. I let him down and opened the door. He had never been in an ice-cream parlor before. He hadn't been near the ice-cream counter at the Memorial Union since he was an infant. This was a new system to him.

I hoisted him up onto my hip so he could see the ice creams in the big cartons on display behind the glass, maneuvering among the knots of other customers. "Look, Ulysses, ice cream!"

"Ice cream?" he repeated, doubtfully.

"Yes!" I replied. "You say which ice cream you want, and that nice man or that nice lady will give you an ice cream cone." He looked interested. I continued, pointing out his favorite flavors. "Look, there's chocolate ... there's coffee ... vanilla ... wow, that one has a lot of chocolate." Then, to the people who had entered just behind us: "You go ahead, we're still deciding."

Behind the glass was a display of sample cones available. Waffle, sugar, and so on. Several sugar cones had been dipped in chocolate. Some were covered with candy sprinkles of various types. Ulysses saw one that had little pastel circles of candy, a little smaller than the confetti from an office hole puncher. He tried to reach over the glass for it.

"No, no, " I said, drawing him back, "They give you the cone. You tell them what ice cream you want in it. Anything you want."

Ulysses whimpered and reached toward the cone. "Do you want chocolate?" I asked.

"No. No cho-kit."


"No coffee."



"Strawberry? Raspberry? Look, these have fruit right in them."

"No!" he said, now sounding a little stressed. "No ..." he pronounced it slowly, carefully: "Aw-beh-eee."

And then we were up. The woman came over to wait on us, but I was still pointing and suggesting. Meantime, Ulysses was straining over the glass for the chocolate-dipped cone again, and starting to become frustrated. "Well, let's start with one of these cones," I said, "And we'll figure out the ice cream next."

With a friendly look, the woman turned from us and stepped away.

Ulysses began to panic. The cone was right there in front of him. Obviously this was a store, obviously the thing was for sale, obviously he was being invited to choose a treat. So what were these conflicting things going on? If he wasn't allowed to reach over and get it himself, then why didn't the store person give it to him? Why would she just walk off in the middle of the transaction?

After a few long seconds, she reappeared, having fetched a perfect, confetti-chocolate-dipped cone from a freezer. Ulysses looked relieved. The dissonance was resolved.

Now to the ice cream. Ulysses had moved from "No," to no response at my suggestions. Now the woman behind the counter joined in. "How about strawberry? That's a kid's flavor." She moved her scoop towards the carton, signaling the idea of "let's try this and see if it works."

In my my mind, I felt I could see the future: the uninvited ice cream landing on the perfect cone, staining it with color and moisture, wrecking its purity forever. The future through the eyes of Ulysses. Quickly, I said, "How much is just the cone?"

She looked surprised. "The cone? Oh, ah ... Seventy-five cents. Eighty with tax." I handed her a dollar and collected my change. Ulysses, thrilled, took the cone into his hands. I think he even said, "Thank you." Anyway, one of us did.

Did she make that price up on the spot? Tax and all? Maybe. I didn't mind. She had to say something. I was just glad that she said something that worked. "We might see you again in a few minutes," I said, "After we leave and he realizes that we need to come back here to get the ice cream!"

"Sure," she said, "No problem."

We made our way slowly towards the block where the car was parked. I was balancing the time left on the meter with the time it would take us to get back to the shop once Ulysses realized he had left the ice cream zone with an empty cone. Then I saw how content he was. He held his cone before him, watching it with a smile. I carried him three blocks. Three contented blocks.

"Aren't you going to eat that?" I asked. He looked at me as though I might be a little mad. Perhaps he didn't realize it was edible? No -- it was rich with the smells of chocolate and candy.

"Buttons!" I heard him say, softly, from the back seat, as we drove towards the car wash. We got the Platinum Special: floor mats taken out and cleaned, the interior scrubbed down. We waited inside the car wash building. Ulysses alternated between watching cars being washed through the windows and appreciating the cone in his hand. When the van was ready, he handed me the cone so he could clamber up into his seat. Then he turned and held out his hand for the cone.

We drove towards home. I looked forward to telling Donald the adorable story of how Ulysses just wanted a cone, and not ice cream. Suddenly, I was there, in the future, at home. While I was telling the story, in this future world, Ulysses, also in the future, was headed for the refrigerator. He was reaching up and tugging at the freezer door. And he was handing his cone to me. To be filled with ice cream. In a flash, I understood everything.

There was no ice cream in that freezer.

I made a detour to the local supermarket and stood in line for some Breyer's All-Natural Vanilla. Ulysses stood beside me, holding his cone. He didn't look at what I was buying.

I was taken aback when the clerk said, "$5.99." That sounded like a lot, even for a premium brand. I emptied the change from my pocket and paid -- and realized that I had been ready to pay over $3 for a single serving of premium ice cream at Ben & Jerry's an hour earlier. In that light, six bucks for a half-gallon looked plenty reasonable.

We pulled up to the house. I let Ulysses out. He ran up the steps, ignoring my efforts to interest him in playing in the yard first. I opened the door. He made his way past me, strode to the refrigerator, and reached up as high as he could, tugging at the freezer door.

I opened it and lifted him. He saw the absence of ice cream and looked stricken. I pulled the ice cream out of my tote bag and held it in front of him. He smiled. "Ice cream!" he said, and held up the cone. Patiently, he waited as I found the scoop, undid the plastic band around the lid, and crowned the perfect confetti-chocolate-dipped cone with a perfect scoop of vanilla.

He came back a few minutes later for a refill. The cone was intact.

He got several refills through the afternoon and evening, some hours apart. That was good; it gave the cone a chance to firm up in the freezer. He never bothered with any supper, either.

The perfect cone is still in the freezer. Intact.