Sunday, December 28, 2014


This year my boss and his wife made gift bags of food for his staff. Everyone got cookies and (I think) candy, although I'm not 100% sure of that since I didn't get cookies or (possibly also) candy. Instead, my boss and his wife correctly deduced that I would not want a bag of cookies in my apartment, and made me a little gift bag with ingredients and a recipe for lemon and olive tagine chicken with couscous instead. (Except for the chicken, because who's going to give you a bag of raw chicken for Christmas?) I was very excited, because this was both very thoughtful and was an opportunity to try some new stuff in the kitchen.

The only problem was that I didn't have a tagine.

I mentioned this to a few friends, and almost all of them asked the same question: "What's a tagine?"

A tagine, like my Famous Covers Aunt May action figure, is a thing that exists.


Yes, you do, in all your horrifying glory.

Aunt May actually has nothing to do with this blog entry, but I had her out for another entry that I ended up not writing yesterday, so I figured, "What the hell. Let's go with it."

Anyway, a tagine is a Moroccan clay cooking pot, with a lid, in a very specific shape. Since you're already here, Aunt May, why don't you show it off?



Jesus, that's enough of that. People are going to have nightmares.

They had tagines at Williams-Sonoma, where Richard and Laura got theirs, but they were $60 dollars. The one at the World Market was $20, so I went with that one and decided to give this whole thing a try.

First, I had to take the "tagine spices":


and toast them in a skillet pan for three minutes:


I have no idea what's in tagine spices, but they smelled really good when they were toasting. Once they were toasted, I mixed them in a bowl with salt, freshly ground pepper, minced garlic, and olive oil to create a paste:


that I then coated the raw chicken in:


The bowl of chicken, with some bay leaves added, went into the refrigerator for three hours to marinate, and when the three hours was almost up I got to work on the rest of the preparation. First, I had to slice up some fresh cilantro:


and Italian flat leaf parsley. Then I scooped out a cup of olives from the jar that was in the gift bag, and got out the jar of preserved lemons:


I've never worked with preserved lemon before, but it seemed easy enough. According to the recipe, I needed to rinse, then clear out the pulp:


and slice the peels into strips:


Then I sliced up two onions, put them in a different bowl, and it was time to start cooking!

According to the recipe, I needed to heat some oil in the tagine and brown the chicken in it to start. I was a little worried about this, because the tagine is a ceramic, and you can't put most ceramics on stove burners without them cracking or exploding. I texted Laura, and she said she usually puts her tagine in an iron pan, and the pan acts as a heat buffer to spread the heat and keep it evenly distributed. I didn't have an iron pan, but I looked around for one that seemed thick enough and decided to give this a try:


I set the stove for medium-high heat, and when the oil was ready I added some of the chicken:


It started to sizzle, and we were in business! I was cooking in a tagine! Everything was going so well!

And then the kitchen rang with the sharp sound of the tagine cracking.

Approximately one second later it rang with the sharp sound of my swearing.

I removed it from the heat immediately and scooped out the chicken to double check. Maybe it was just some oil popping or something?


Nope. Cracked tagine.

Now I had the problem of a bowl of raw marinated chicken, a bowl of onions, and a bowl of fresh herbs, olives, and sliced preserved lemon peel to contend with. Thinking quickly, I threw away the onions because onions are disgusting and I had no use for them in my repurposed dinner. I would have omitted them to begin with but figured they were adding liquid to the tagine chicken by cooking down in the pot, and I didn't want it to dry out. Then I pulled out a skillet, tossed in the chicken and the quarter cup of lemon juice that was supposed to go in the tagine, and started browning the chicken. When it was mostly done I dumped in the other bowl and let it simmer for a few minutes:


while I made the couscous. So, I didn't get to make delicious tagine chicken, but I did make delicious Moroccan spiced chicken instead, and ate it with couscous with golden raisins:


Too bad about the tagine exploding.


Actually, Aunt May, I think that one was all me.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Thanks, Obama!

I've been missing walking on the Greenway a bit. Since daylight savings time started I haven't really been able to walk there because it's dark when I get out of work, and I don't want to be out on the Greenway after dark because there won't be anyone else there, so if I trip over tree roots and hurt myself no one will come along to find me. I probably could have gone on the weekends, but most weekends I just haven't felt like it and have walked on my treadmill instead. I'm going to stop doing that (unless it's raining) and get back into going on Saturday and Sunday, because it's nice to be outside.

Also, I missed the People of the Greenway.

Back when I thought my neighbor was dead I mentioned that I assign little nicknames to strangers that I see often. They're not particularly clever, but it mentally acknowledges that I know those people, and sort of makes me feel like we're friends even though we haven't actually spoke. I haven't seen any of them during my walking this week, when I've been on the Greenway every day that it wasn't raining, but I'm keeping hope alive that I'll run into any or all of them. There are other people out there, but none of them are my people, if that makes sense.

Since I never explained, these are the People of the Greenway:

Gramma Jogger: Gramma Jogger is my friend Meg's neighbor, and Meg has told me her name at least a dozen times. It just slides right off of my brain. When I began walking the Greenway in July, I saw Gramma Jogger almost every day. She is a tiny little older lady, not even as tall as my shoulder, and she jogs. She doesn't just walk the Greenway like most of the people on it her age. She jogs, and she's pretty fast. She's also the first (and so far only) of the People of the Greenway to acknowledge me in a friendly way. After about a month and a half of walking, she started to wave when we passed each other (she and I always go in opposite directions), and now whenever we see each other we wave. I was kind of hoping to see her this week, but no luck so far.

Pecs-y Galore: I am barely conscious of what Pecs-y's face looks like. All I've ever noticed is the chest. From July until October, every time I saw Pecs-y Galore he was running toward me, shirtless, often sweaty, and it was like a scene from "Baywatch", every single time. It was like he was always running in slow motion, and all I noticed was gigantic, Rob Liefeld-esque pectorals glistening in the sun as they shifted and bounced. Like I said, I have no idea what his face looks like (He might be blonde? Or brunette? I know he's not bald. I think.) but I'm pretty sure I could pick his chest out of a police lineup.

Stroller Dad: Stroller Dad jogs the Greenway while pushing a stroller. He jogs the entire time. Even uphill. Not only that, but he jogs quickly. Sometimes he takes the Greenway loop one way and sometimes he takes another, but every time he goes in the same direction as me he passes me. Going uphill. While pushing a stroller.

I have sometimes had unkind thoughts about Stroller Dad.

Henna Rinse: Henna Rinse cracked me up. I walk the Greenway with my headphones in and my iPod on shuffle, so usually I don't really hear what people are saying. My friend Elizabeth said she likes to hear herself breathe while she runs, but I find that counterproductive, and wear the headphones to drown out the sound of my own wheezing. One day in August, I found myself a few feet behind Henna Rinse and her friend, and in the brief but magical window between one song and the next on my iPod I heard Henna Rinse:

"I don't do ALL THIS," she said, gesturing at the Greenway, "for ALL THIS," she continued, gesturing at herself, "for him to not call me."

I almost choked. It wasn't what she said so much as the outraged, "men are pigs" tone of voice, and I loved it. For a moment, I wanted to be her friend.

Rescue Dog: He's a nice little old man with a small, white rescue dog. He talks a lot, though, so if you notice the dog Rescue Dog will immediately begin telling you the entire story of where they found him and how long they've had him and how long they've been working as dog rescuers and the history of the dog breed and the pros and cons of owning one and how important it is that dogs have a good home and you'll begin to wish you'd never slowed down, much less stopped, to pet his dog. Normally I ignore dogs on the Greenway, but if you look at Rescue Dog's dog he says, "Go ahead and pet him! He's friendly!" and then you're trapped.

Tennis Skirt: A middle aged lady, she always walks in the opposite direction, and she always walks in a tennis skirt. I have no idea how many she has, but I've seen her in a black one, a white one, and a pink one, all with matching tops.

Finally, there is The Really Hot Guy With Three Dogs and One of Them is a Dalmatian: For the longest time, I thought he was a myth, some sort of Greenway urban legend. Two of my female friends told me about him during two separate conversations about walking the Greenway, and both of them spoke of him in hushed tones.

"Have you seen The Really Hot Guy With Three Dogs and One of Them is a Dalmatian?"

"I don't know. I don't really notice people's dogs, but I guess I might have seen him."

"Oh, no, you'd know if you saw him."

July turned to August, August to September, and September was creeping into October, but still I hadn't ever seen a really hot guy with three dogs, period, nevermind seeing a really hot guy with three dogs and one of them was a Dalmatian. I began to suspect that he wasn't real, or that he'd started walking on some other Greenway (the city has several, after all), and that I would just never see him, but then one Saturday I went to the Greenway at a different time from the one I normally walked at. As I was walking from the parking lot where I park downhill toward another parking lot, I noticed a guy getting out of his SUV.

A really hot guy.

He paused at the back of the SUV to grab the bottom of his shirt with both hands and then peel it slowly upwards, and then he tossed it into the back of the SUV as dogs began piling out.

One, two, no, three dogs.

And one of them was a Dalmatian.

Oh my God, I thought. He's REAL. It's the Really Hot Guy With Three Dogs and One of Them is a Dalmatian.

And then I never saw him again.

You know what I saw every time I went to the Greenway, though? Something I didn't miss.

This Chick-Fil-A sticker:

greenway 1

Someone stuck that on the light pole just past the 1 Mile marker or, if you walk the Greenway in the opposite direction, just before the 1 Mile marker. Every time I see that sticker I feel mildly irritated, because I'm gay and Chick-Fil-A hates me. Why does that sticker have to be there? That light pole isn't near any of the parking lots, which means someone had to carry that sticker with them. Who does that? Who feels that strongly about Chick-Fil-A and their hateful bigoted values?

I've thought a lot about that sticker.

I think about it every time I make a lap of the Greenway. I think about tearing it off of the light pole, but I'm worried it will rip, and then I'll have to look at an ugly, ripped, half sticker every time I go by, and that's not good, either. I thought about reporting it as vandalism, but felt that the city wouldn't take such a complaint seriously. Not only that, but I'd feel a little bad if they sent some poor city parks employee out to check all of the light poles on the Greenway just because I don't like a sticker. I also thought about coloring in all the words on the sticker with a black marker, or putting another sticker over it, but that's vandalism. Granted, the person who put up that sticker also committed vandalism, but two wrongs don't make a right. Vandalism to cover up other, worse vandalism is still vandalism, right?

Maybe, I thought. But maybe it serves a greater good, like civil disobedience.

But it's still a crime. I don't commit crimes, usually.

If your family was starving, would you steal bread to feed your family? I think we all know where that particular inner voice came from. What if your family didn't need bread? What if they needed someone to vandalize a light pole on the Greenway?

It would still be a crime.

Can crime serve a greater purpose? Is doing the right thing and doing the legal thing not always the same thing? I don't know. Those aren't my questions to answer. All I do know is that yesterday, somewhere between my first and second mile on the Greenway, some hypothetical person carried a sticker that's the exact opposite of everything that rabid Chick-Fil-A supporters stand for to the light pole just past the first mile marker, and that nameless anonymous person righted a wrong:

greenway 2

Peeling off that sticker will also peel off the sticker beneath.

Problem solved.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

"Wait, are you still making fudge this year?"

I don't have a lot of holiday traditions. Some years, I don't even put up the tree, although I lie and tell my mom that I did because otherwise she gets this sad tone in her voice when she asks, "What are you putting your presents under?"

They're on the kitchen counter, Mom, under the ceiling lights.

Merry Christmas.

See how depressing that sounds?

So, even when I don't put up the tree, I lie and say that I did so that people don't worry about me. Even though I don't always decorate, though, I do have one holiday tradition that I've upheld since 2010: Every year, sometime in December, I attempt to make fudge from the Carnation Famous Fudge Kit, and I blog about how it is a constant source of failure, disappointment, and mental self-abuse. This year I thought about not following through with my tradition, because I'm so serious about my diet that people accuse me of an eating disorder and having a pan of fudge in the house would not be conducive to maintaining diet integrity, but then a friend asked me if I was still going to make fudge.

"It's not on my diet."

"Don't keep it. Take it to work."

I hadn't thought of that, but it is the season for giving. Maybe I could give some fudge to the office. I could maintain my holiday tradition, stay on my diet, and do something nice for other people. Everybody wins that way, right? Everybody, that is, except for the makers of the Carnation Famous Fudge Kit, because after I decided last year that the Famous Fudge Kit is impossible to use according to the directions on the box, I decided to break the cycle. This year, I decided that I would forgo kits and gimmicks, and just make fudge from a recipe like normal people do.

My Mom responded to last year's blog entry by going in the complete opposite direction. Apparently having mistaken Mommie Dearest for a tutorial rather than an indictment, my Mom has now purchased the fudge kit two years in a row, and patiently explained to me that her fudge turned out just fine, so it must be me doing it wrong. I love my mom, but her story doesn't hold up under cross-examination; each time her fudge has turned out fine, but each time she has deviated in some way from the instructions on the box. I stand by my point that the fudge on the front of the box is impossible to produce according to the directions on the back.

Since my Mom can apparently spin straw into gold and make actual fudge out of chocolate chips and an overwhelming sense of failure, I asked her for recipes to make fudge this year, and she provided one for peanut butter fudge and one for chocolate. Feeling ambitious, I decided to try both.

I was only partially successful.

The chocolate fudge was very easy and, dare I say it, practically foolproof.

Chocolate Fudge

1 14oz can sweetend condensed milk
3 cups chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts or other nuts (optional)

I left the nuts out, and, since I like the people I work with, I sprung for the expensive Ghiradelli chocolate chips. (I didn't spring too far. They were on sale. Still, it's the thought that counts.) I poured the milk and the chocolate chips into a pot:

fudge (1)

set the stove for medium heat, and began to stir and wait for the chips to melt:

fudge (2)

As soon as the chips were fully melted, I removed the pot from the heat and stirred in the vanilla:

fudge (3)

and my God, did it actually look like fudge. Beautiful, well-made fudge. I spooned it into the pan:

fudge (4)

(yes, I used a cheap disposable pan; I'm not taking any of my Pyrex to the office) and put it in the refrigerator for two hours to set. After that, I sliced it, and ate a small piece:

fudge (5)

It's good. It's not quite as soft as I like fudge to be, but I bet using milk chocolate chips instead of regular chocolate would make all the difference there. Other than that, it tastes good, and all is right on the chocolate fudge side of the world.

The peanut butter fudge side of the world, on the other hand, is a barren terrain of heartbreak and despair.

Peanut Butter Fudge

1 cup milk
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup peanut butter

Mix milk and sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir continuously for 2.5 minutes. Remove from heat, add vanilla and peanut butter, and stir until blended. Pour into lightly greased 8 by 8 inch pan and set in refrigerator for at least two hours.

I should have been able to do this. I watch Mom do it while I was home for Thanksgiving, and it was almost effortless. Mine looked right until I added the peanut butter, and then it became obvious that something was horribly wrong.

peanut butter fudge (2)

I was on the phone with Kristin at the time.

"This fudge is really, really liquidy. Like, something's wrong with it."

"Can you add something to it? Maybe some flour? Or a little bit of cornstarch?"

"You don't put flour in fudge. I'm going to heat it for another minute and try to cook out some of the moisture."

"Good luck."

It thickened up a little, so I poured it into the pan and hoped for the best:

peanut butter fudge (3)

When I took it out of the refrigerator a couple of hours later, it had firmed a little, but attempting to slice it was a disaster:

peanut butter fudge (4)

That clearly wasn't right, but I wasn't ready to give up. I put it back in the refrigerator, and came back two more hours later:

peanut butter fudge (5)

It sealed the cuts that I made in it.

I invented self-healing peanut butter fudge.

I threw the whole pan away, and decided that maybe I'm just not good at making fudge, but my Mom is.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Five Months

Remember that time I lost so much weight that my unbelted shorts fell off in public, and how I thought it was hilarious and triumphant at the same time? I still think that, but five months into my weight loss journey I've learned a valuable lesson:

It is not funny when you have to take your belt off to go through airport security and your pants start falling down when you raise your arms above your head for the x-ray machine.

Those are the pants I just bought in September, by the way. I wore them for the flight to New York for Thanksgiving, because they are getting to be a little looser but still basically ok (I'm not swimming in them), but when I put my arms up in the scanner machine my torso must have stretched out a little more than usual and for a second I really, seriously thought pants were going down. If there had been anything in my pockets at that moment, it probably would have happened. As it was, I had to grab them as soon as I could put my arms down, because I was afraid to take a single step otherwise.

And that was after I had to show the lady at the starting checkpoint a second form of photo ID, and then explain that I don't wear contacts any more and that I've lost over 50 pounds since my driver's license photo was taken. Since two different people at stores have said the same thing when they've checked my license against my name on my debit card, I'm starting to wonder if I should go have a new photo taken. I'm going to wait until it actually expires, though, as I hope to lose more weight between now and then.

Also, I hope to lose more weight in the next month than I did last month.

I only lost six pounds this month.

I know I shouldn't complain, and that lots of people would be really excited to lose six pounds in a month. Those six pounds are part of a much larger total that I should be really proud of. I started at 295, and this morning I weighed in at 234.

I have lost 61 pounds.

I'm just a little disappointed in myself because I know I could have done better this month. I feel like I've hit a plateau, but to be more honest the real problem is that I've been coasting. Now that it's not a struggle to hit 10,000 steps every day, I really should have increased the daily step goal to 12,000, but I didn't. I also needed to start increasing the speed on the treadmill. If I can walk on the treadmill for over a mile without breaking a sweat, then I need to increase the speed and push myself harder, but I haven't been doing that for most of the month, and because of that I only lost six pounds when I could have lost more. The first few months were filled with dramatic weight loss, and part of that was because in the first few months I was really pushing myself. I was struggling, and I was fighting, but like I said, I've been coasting this month, and it needs to stop.

I have a plan for this. I even made myself a slogan:

Every Day is a 5K

What this means is that every day, either in the morning or after work, I need to put in 3 miles at one time on the treadmill. Even if I'm already at 10,000 steps for the day, I need to put in 6000 more, because part of pushing myself is working on my endurance. I already know that I'm not built for speed, but I realized during the Race for the Cure 5K in October and the Buddy's Race Against Cancer in November (46:40, which is 30 seconds faster than I was at the Race for the Cure) that I am excellent at maintaining a constant pace. I pass other racers and never see them again. I pass people going uphill. People run, then walk, then run, then walk, and eventually I pass those people, too. In both races, I've been right at the line that divides runners from walkers, and once I reached that line I've stayed at it all the way through the race.

I can do this.

I know, because I did it every day last week at my parents' house.

I treadmilled, I sweated, and I know that I burned fat, because I didn't lose any weight at all for the first two weeks of this month and now, at the end of the month I'm down six pounds. I did that by refocusing, buckling down, being deliberate, and pushing myself. And I'm going to do that every day, because I'm not just walking anymore.

I'm training.

When I facilitate a Safe Zone training, there's a part of it where we talk about how important it is for allies to practice their skills, to keep themselves ready to intervene and assist and support and educate if needed, and I have a little prepared illustration that I always use for that part:

"Who here played, or still plays, a musical instrument?" There's almost always at least one hand, as schools in Tennessee fortunately still seem to have strong music programs. "How did you learn how to play it? Did someone show you everything one time, and then you were good to go? Or did you have to practice, over and over, so that you got better and then stayed good?"

I can't believe that it's taken me this long to realize that I needed to turn that back on myself, but there it is. I want to get faster at 5K's. I don't know if I ever want to run one (I do, actually; I just don't know if I ever will), but I want to be faster than I am, and the only way to do that is to train. Doing one 5K a month isn't building muscle, it isn't building endurance, and it isn't causing improvement. All I'm doing is walking, when what I need to be doing is training, and I can do that. All of the tools I need are already inside me. I am determined, driven, and stubborn. All I need to do is focus that, and for the past week I've done so. My next 5K is ten days away, and we'll see how it goes.

And then we'll start looking at 10K's, because I was told you get a medal for those.

I need medals, because my friend Bernadette sent me a progress board, and it has hooks for medals:

inspiration wall

I've added it to the Inspiration Wall across from the treadmill, but I'm not calling it an Inspiration Wall anymore. It's a Progress Wall, and I'm progressing. My eyes are on the prize.

Next month I will turn the first page on my Venice calendar, and when I do it, I will weigh less than I do right now.