Friday, January 26, 2024

Finally, a senior outing! Livin’ the Vida Loca at the Buca di Beppo

A couple days ago, a few of us from the Senior Center went out to lunch (my first outing since the Narcisi Winery in October) to Buca di Beppo, an Italian restaurant in Robinson Township.  It felt a bit strange as there was only 2 other customers there.

However, we were treated like royalty and our server (Ashley) was wonderful.  When I said my lasagna was probably the best I’d ever eaten, she went back and told the chef, who asked if he could meet me.  His name was Roberto and my gosh, what a humble, kind man.

I didn’t take a lot of photos, but thought I’d share the few I have.  When we left, I said I hoped we made it back this way again soon, and my friend Evvie said “Okay, but we’re only steps away from an Outback Steakhouse!”

Seated in the Cardinals Room, there’s a giant peacock painted on the wall behind my giant headA mural of nuns riding bumper cars—I almost wish I had this hanging in my apartment.While Dennis is outside smoking his 16th cigarette, Paul is about to order a glass of wine so expensive I feel the need to tell him how to drink it.  S L O W L Y.Hot plate!  You can’t tell from this photo, but there must be a quart of lasagna and sauce here. 

I was going to post everyone’s lunch, but we all ordered the same thing!My dear and funny pal Evvie, we discussed places to visit in DC and the going rates for cadavers, among other things.I brought home my leftover lasagna, and our server put a paper sack with a small loaf of warm bread in my doggy bag.  Talk about first class service.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Man does not live by bread alone; he also lives by potatoes! Lots and lots of mashed potatoes

Some time back when I was at my sister Carrie Shawn’s house for dinner, she said “Taste the potatoes before you season them, I added a lot of salt when I was mashing.”

I said “Speaking of mashed potatoes, Kuhn’s has stopped selling Hungry Jack Potatoes and I am devastated.”   Shawn said “Hungry Jacks what?  I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I said “HUNGRY JACK INSTANT POTATOES.” She said “Sorry, I don’t buy instant stuff.  My family eats the real thing.”  I said “They ARE the real thing. They’re russet potatoes, flaked & freeze dried.”  Shawn said “Sounds like space food to me!”

I said “For your information, Carrie Nation, astronauts haven’t eaten freeze dried food in decades!”  She said “Well, you still do.  Now pass the REAL butter!”

I considered slamming my fork down and storming out of her dining room, but I was hungry and it’s not everyday single guys like me get the chance to have real mashed potatoes, you know?

For the record, instant mashed potatoes aren’t as simple as you think.  If you don’t add the right combination of water, milk, salt & butter you can wind up with something inedible.  Potatoes too soupy?  Stir in more flakes.  Add too many though, and you get paste—and NO AMOUNT of water or milk is gonna fix that bowl of glue!

When I returned to the city (and Kuhn’s Market), I decided to check out what other potatoes they had in the astronaut aisle:  I saw these and was intrigued, and bought packs of each.

Um… these potatoes are wonderful.  Boil 2 cups of water, empty in a packet, wait a minute or two.  That’s all you have to do.  Here’s a few meals I had with the packs above:

POTATOES:  FOUR CHEESE.  SERVED WITH:  Chicken tenders, buttered corn. 

THOUGHTS:  These potatoes weren’t bad, but there was more tang than cheese.  I don’t think mashed potatoes should be this tangy.  Did I still eat them?  Yes.  Will I buy them again?  I doubt it.POTATOES:  VERMONT WHITE CHEDDAR.  SERVED WITH:  Baked chicken thighs seasoned with Old Bay, green beans.

THOUGHTS:  These potatoes struck the perfect balance of creamy potatoes & mild cheddar.  They were absolutely delicious (and the Old Bay chicken was excellent).  Will I buy them again?  You bet—in fact, I went back the next day and bought a couple more packs.POTATOES:  CLASSIC.  SERVED WITH:  Meatloaf, frozen peas.

THOUGHTS:  These had a mild aftertaste that reminded me they weren’t real.  In fact, they took me back to my high school cafeteria days and the mashed potatoes served with meatloaf or chicken & gravy sandwiches.  You knew they weren’t genuine, but they were hot so you gobbled them down anyway.   

On a tastier note, I make a pretty good meatloaf which you can find here.POTATOES:  BABY REDS.  SERVED WITH:  Ham, roasted broccoli topped with shredded parmesan.

THOUGHTS:  We have a winner, these potatoes were delicious and tasted homemade.  They even have lumps in them, I love that.  They just became my new go-to. 

Also, this is the only way I’ll cook broccoli again.  Take 1 bag of frozen florets, add in 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 tsp kosher salt, 1/2 tsp sugar, pinch of white pepper, shake of red pepper flakes.  Shake bag well, spread on a baking sheet and bake at 450F for 20 minutes.Finally, I wanted to mention that I enjoyed the ‘Roasted Garlic Parmesan Baby Reds’ with a nice piece of baked flounder and brussel sprouts, and they were my third favorite, behind the White Cheddar.  The reason I don’t have a photo is because it was my first potato mix and what inspired me to blog the rest of these. 

Also, Kuhn’s has just added 5-6 more flavors to the Idahoan Mashed lineup (Applewood Bacon, Herbed, Country Style, etc.) so I will be doing a Part Two.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

When it’s 8F outside and nothing but ice & snow… time for some Bachelor Man style Nanner Cookies

The title says it all.  When I got up this morning and shivered into my kitchen to make a cup of Tully’s coffee, the news in the other room announced the start of a new Ice Age and I wished I had something sweet to go with my Hawaiian brew.  I had 1 1/2 overripe bananas sitting on top of my fridge, what if I made banana bread?

Forget it—no walnuts, no nutmeg and I don’t think I have enough flour or bananas.  But I do have some cinammon and this handful of leftover Hershey Kisses from Christmas.

Okay, this cinammon has a “Best if Used By March 7 2001” date but it still smells cinammony.  Didn’t I read about a team of archaeologists who made campfire stew using 2,500 year old spices from an Egyptian tomb?  What’s 25 years compared to 25 hundred, right?

Let’s go!

All cookies start with beating 1 stick of softened butter and 1 cup of sugar until fluffy.  My grandma’s Rival mixer makes a racket, but gets the job doneNow I’m beating in one large egg that I let sit out for an hour (to reach room temperature) until creamyChopping up those Hershey Kisses… these suckers are hard, it felt more like I was whittling soapSliced up those ripe bananas, sprinkled 1 teaspoon baking soda over them and then mashed them up good with a forkAdding the molten bananas to my sugar-butter-egg mix, then beat togetherNow I’m sloooowly adding 2 cups sifted all purpose flour, a hard pinch of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of 25 year old cinammonLastly, folding my chip-chopped chocolate kisses into the batter with a large spoonNine tablespoon-sized glops on my air-baking sheet.  I forgot to buy parchment paper the last time I was at the store, so I put a dab of canola oil on my pan and rubbed it all over with a half paper towel.  Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes.We’ve got cookies!  These are actually VERY moist, like cookie-sized slices of banana bread, but crispy around the edges. 

This recipe made 33 delicious cookies total.  Time to make that coffee.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Getting older: you don’t have to look like my grandma (but maybe I do)

A couple nights ago, I was in my customary place on my living room floor talking to my friend and former classmate Diana on the phone, about another friend and former classmate of ours who has fallen on some pretty bad times, health wise.  She may end up in a nursing home later this year.

I remarked that it was simply too incredible to fathom; she’s not even 62 for a couple weeks yet.  (Diana turned 62 this past summer, I did this past Halloween.)

Later, while going through photos on my old computer (yes, I’m taking too much time deciding what I want to move to my new laptop) I came across this picture from May 1976.  It was taken in front of my old high school, and it’s apparently May Day as my sister was a Maypole dancer.  Her dress was red with white stars, in honor of the Bicentennial. 

Grandma Morris, my sister Shawn, Dad in May 1976:  Shawn was 12 here (3 months from turning 13), Dad was 39 & Grandma 62

(Meanwhile, our dad was rockin’ that denim leisure suit!  Seriously, I’d forgotten all about it.  The man was too cool for school.)

As we’d just been discussing the good & bad of being 62, I forwarded this photo to my friend Diana to show her what 62 was looking like in 1976.  Diana gave me a chuckle when she replied:

Boy this made me laugh—I assured Diana that even though my grandmother looked perfect to me, Diana did look less grandmotherly than Grandma here.  I was being honest too.  Diana (who lives on a mostly plant-based diet) is probably in better shape now than she was in the 1970s. 

Anyway, it gave us both a good laugh and I’m glad we ended things on a positive note. But then an hour or so later, I’m in the bathroom brushing my teeth and boy, do I look like my grandma.  That’s not how it’s supposed to work… is it?

Well, on that silly note I just wanted to add a new post to my blog.  I hope everyone out there is doing good.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Steve’s sheet, money shame, what is it and why do I even have it

A few weeks ago my old buddy and former coworker Steve R. retired.  He sat in the cubicle behind mine for several years, and they don’t come nicer, funnier or more helpful than Steve.  I love the guy.

Steve is 64 and wanted to retire 4 years ago, but then covid struck, the stock market (and his retirement account) crashed and his wife Cindy got very ill.  It took long enough but everything turned around (and Cindy’s all better), so better late than never.  A week after he retired, Steve texted me one night and said “Doug, Cindy is sending me out at 9:30 for chicken & rice!  It’s pretty late but this is how we roll in Retirement Town!” 

Since then, I’ve heard about Retirement Town 3-4 times and I’m glad he’s enjoying it.  I can’t believe I’ve been here myself since January 2015, where did the time go?

This reminds me of my last day in the office, the events that day are etched into my brain.  My boss called me into his office and said he couldn’t believe I was really quitting.  (I’d given my notice a month before, shortly after Thanksgiving.)

He said “You’re not retiring, where are you going?  Highmark?  PNC Bank?”  Nope.  He said “How can you retire, I’m older than you and I can’t retire.  I make more money than you, I probably save more than you.”   I said I did more than save my money, I invested it.

When I left Len’s office, Steve asked what happened in there and I told him.  Steve said “Do you really have enough to retire?”   I said I hoped so.  I had no problem telling him what I had, we often compared notes when it came to investing.

I said “I have $223,000 in a personal stock portfolio, and $15,000 in the bank.  If I can live on $25-27,000 a year, and don’t fall in love with any black widows or get catfished by online romance scammers, I’m hoping that money can last 10 years.  Then I can start spending down my retirement fund, and I’ll have social security too.”

Steve said “Let’s set up a spreadsheet to see how long your non-retirement stocks last” and came up with the simple excel below.  He said it looked like I’d be down to $4,500 by January 2025.

According to this I should be starting January 2024 with $29,367 remaining in my portfolio but it’s quite the opposite; I don’t want to say how much, but I’ve got more now than what I started with in 2015.  How is that even possible?  I guess Steve’s 3% growth estimate was too conservative, and nothing beats the magic of reinvesting dividends, capital gains & a seven year bull market. 

If I could give a person under the age of 40 some advice, I’d tell them to do more than stick their money in the bank.  Invest it.  You don’t even have to know what you’re doing; go to Vanguard, Fidelity, Charles Schwab—open an account, find a mutual fund that invests in the S&P 500, buy shares of that fund.  Buy shares monthly or when you can afford it.  Do this for 20 years.  You’re done.

So why do I almost feel guilty for having what I do?  No one gave it to me, I saved for thirty years and instead of buying a home, put it in stocks instead.   A friend and former classmate of mine wants to retire this year, but doesn’t have a lot besides their social security and a small pension.  At least she owns her home, and her mortgage is paid in full.  Can she do it?  I very much hope so.

I have a one bedroom apartment I’ll be paying rent on forever, yet I still feel like I have more than my fair share.  I was talking to another friend and relating all of this, and she said it sounded like “money shame”.  I said I’d never heard of it, she said it’s the feeling of shame you get for having too much or too little money.

It’s not like I’m a millionaire, but if I continue living the way I’ve been living for the last 30 years, I’m pretty much set.  There’s nothing wrong with that, right?  Isn’t that the goal here?

Maybe I retired a little too early than my subconscious liked, but better too early than too late.  I’m just glad Steve & Cindy are enjoying living in Retirement Town.