Scallops and the Smoky Mountain

I’m really in love with fish these days. There are so many different types to choose from. Scallops for instance. Some guy at Central Market spent some time at the fish counter where he taught me how to cook those things. Before that lesson, I used to overcook them into a tough chewy joyless experience. But since his guidance, they have come out right every time. I don’t use butter but every once or twice a year, saving that for the moments where we want cookies or something decadent, but rare. More often then not I poach them. High heat and short duration is the key. Like 8 minutes tops length.

Tonight I cooked up a pot of Ohio grown Spelt berries, greens, broccoli, and onions then served everything up together. The chewy nutty flavor of the Spelt complimented the delicate lemony flavor of the scallops in contrast with the deep rich flavors of the green stuff. Really great way to end a day with something lightweight and heart-healthy but satisfying.

My next challenge is going to be to cook a whole fish. Possibly a Bronzini as that’s one of the fish I’ve been enjoying lately in various restaurants around town. That and I want to learn how to cook and serve a whole fish at some point.

Looking ahead, it’s time to start doing the research for the Smoky mountain trip I suppose. I got the specs from the organizer as follows.

  • Day one, meet at Jake’s Creek Trail-head and hike from Tremont to Spence (8.1 miles)
  • Day two, hike from Spence to Double Spring (14 miles)
  • Day three, hike from Double Spring to Elkmont (11.1 miles)

While reading my copy of “Great Smoky Mountains National Park” by Jason Frye this hike out to cabin experience kind of peaked my interest for 2020. I like the sound of no showers except for a bucket in your cabin with water to wash off with. Breakfast and dinner served in a non-electric, gas lamp-lit, difficult to get to set up with non-airtight cabins. Just enough comfort to give you a break from the AT style shelters. Yeah, that totally sounds amazing to me actually.

It’s always good to find new things to check out when you let yourself explore different possibilities every now and then. Be it fish or new outdoor activities like the cabins or, soon, kayaking and a triathlon plan for myself.

Recalibration on a Monday

I packed my Smoky Mountains hiking guide in my backpack today just before biking to work today. I’m getting really excited about visiting this place on one of two planned trips for the year. The first time on a three day hiking trip with my buddies from the Central Kentucky Backpackers meetup group. It’s good to have people on the trail more experienced than yourself I’m finding. That and, well, they are really cool people to share stories with. Even if I am the oldest one in the bunch. More on that soon as the trip is scheduled for the weekend of the 19th. Here’s to AT style backcountry shelters. And ear plugs.

After work closed, however, I was back out on the bike and headed home for a nap before a drawing class that I enrolled in. The dinner I made was exactly what I enjoy. Sauteed Swiss Chard, a nice piece of salmon and some avocado toasts. Kind of perfect.

The first class session was humbling. I suck at drawing. But that’s why I’m there I suppose. I want to be able to do more than write about hikes or record sounds. I’d like to imagine a situation where either at the end, the beginning or during I kick off my boots, sit down with a trail journal and a pencil and capture the moment in a way that a cell phone can’t That’s my motivation for trying to learn how to draw one more time.

On the Nick front. I failed. I think my talk with mom and dad over the weekend helped me to realize that this is not the place I should be. At all. I just can’t be as present as he needs. So my solution has been to contact two of his friends, one of them another financial POA toward transitioning billing back to him as I believe he’s capable of handling since most of it’s automated. All except the arcane and mysterious Medicare bullshit. He was a State worker so he has no Social Security. It’s all handled differently through OPERS than for most folks where he has to file reimbursement forms that can’t be automated. Then there are the huge medical bills that, while he can afford, it’s been hard for me to touch base on and, frankly, stresses me out because I know this is not my strong suit. It’s one of those moments when I tell myself that someone is better off without me. Tough choices. I’m gonna do what I can but I know my limits.

Time will tell on all points. Next up for tomorrow? Back to the gym for the first time in over a month. Time to get back to being responsible.

Summer visit with my folks

I was visiting my folks this weekend. This is where glimpses of my history sort of come together from their perspective, and we talk for a couple of hours catching one another up on what has passed recently. Or, sadly, over the course of more months than should have gone by.

I wanted to go to Crum Berry Farm, and I did, but I failed to note that they left a note on the FaceBook page that stated they were closed until the next day. Fourth of July and my now weak FaceBook skills now that I am off that platform for two years plus at this point I suppose. I thought it might have been related to the heavy rains and reasons that farms are currently struggling with water inundation here in Ohio this year. I’m glad that was a false assumption.

My mom would take us there to pick strawberries when we were kinds and she was strong, sporting short shorts and some sort of killer hair style. She always looked great. But those days. As kids? We hated them. It was work. Maybe not hard work, but to a 10-year-old it’s probably the same emotion a cat has when you put a collar on it. Noooooooooo!!!!!

Looking back on it? Well, I returned today out of admiration for her and respect for those awesome memories she created for us. There’s nothing like picking a container of berries in the summer sun where the gentle touch of your hands pulling them off the vines infuses the air around you with that sweet smell that, well, to me, just smells like summer itself. Thanks mom.

I picked up shakes for mom and me at The Jersey, another Marion summer institution for me and coffee for dad from McDonald’s. He likes the stuff.

Afterwards, I drove home through light summer showers and just kind of enjoyed the soybeans, cornfields, undeveloped tree covered patches along the highway as I headed back to Columbus. I look forward to this season so damn much and want to take in as much as I can every year. It just feels like family, friends, good times and easy days. And of course, there’s a mountain of songs out there to support that as I keep collecting them on my Summer Playlist on Spotify. Much of the genre I love is centered around where I grew up in a Place on Edgewood Dr where my dad would work on cars while playing music into the late hours of the night with his friends or by himself as we’d watch things like Buck Rodgers or Planet of the Apes in the house or go rambling around the street with the other kids on non school nights.

Later though, I made some Soba noodles, a spicy peanut sauce, sauteed peppers and bok choy with broiled chicken breasts. Exactly what I was carving. Plus a salad since I have a bunker full of various types at the moment.

Next up? My first kayaking experience, ever, tomorrow. Fortunately with a group as a chance to learn before I put down the cash for my own as I am considering entering the Little Miami Triathlon in October. It’s in canoes but I’d rather own a kayak. They are just cooler. As always, an embarrassing story to come.

Purple kale omelet with turkey sausage

My Doctor was the one who told me that one egg yolk a day does not have a significant impact on cholesterol levels. With my total cholesterol now under 100, I thank guides like him for re-opening my culinary options.

With summer in full force, we have a ton of greens and seasonal vegetables. I needed to rotate the purple kale. It was still fresh and beautiful however it’s in a line of greens that I am going to be challenged to consume over the next week. So today I chopped it all up, shredded some lower fat Swiss cheese, cooked up a lean turkey patty and whisked up three eggs (one egg yolk) and made an omelet for breakfast.

The trick with these is the heat of your pan. I use these pans by Greenpan which do a really good job of heat distribution so I spray the pan with nonstick spray (less oil) and crank up the dial to 7 or medium high. Let that come to temp for a couple of minutes, whisk the eggs and pour into the pan. You should hear a soft crackle when the liquid hits the pan.

When the sides start to separate from the wall of the pan you can gently shake the pan until it comes loose at which point you can flip it. Put the greens, turkey, and cheese in a huge pile to one side then fold the other half of the egg over top and gently smoosh.

I like to serve mine with a kick, it’s why I have several types of hot sauces always on hand.

And that’s a simple less bad for you breakfast idea that focuses heavily on greens.

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Summer reading list

Eddie and I have been thinking about spending more time together. Not like our daily make dinner, watch a good film, or bustle around together in the morning on the way to work kind of stuff. But canoeing, grabbing a cabin in the woods, take a clay throwing class, and now, sharing a summer reading list together. Once we get through this set of volumes, I think he wants to delve into 1950’s era counter culture if I remember right from last night.

The main set are from an article by Ta-Nehisi Coates titled “Five books to make you less stupid about the Civil War.” The volume on Thoreau is a little character research before I get his bust and a phrase by him tattooed on my leg. Then the other three are things I picked up along the route of just browsing.

28 years together is a long time by any measure. Keeping things interesting and the conversation flowing is our goal though. And, books are cool!

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Back on the bike

It’s been about 10 years since my Clintonville 13 mile bike commuting days to and from work. I had a Specialized Rockhopper back then. Great bike with shocks and amazing gear shifters for an entry level starter. Of course I gave that to my cousin who was bike commuting a couple years back as hers was stolen.

It was good because while the mountain bike frame was fine for rolling out of a ground level house, it was kind of a pain carrying it two stories down from my urban loft. I remembered my tattoo artist telling me about a shop on Long Street though where they rebuild bikes from scrap parts. So I picked this awesome little aluminum framed rig up recently. Oddly enough on the week that the shop closed actually as there is a development going into that block.

My new ride

It’s lightweight, funky functional, and a joy to ride even the 1+ mile back and forth from work, the grocery store or just for a quick ride down by the Scioto Mile after dinner.

I didn’t realize how much I missed riding I suppose. It’s also nice to now live in a version of Columbus that is finally embracing bike lanes like Portland Oregon uses. Now if only we could get the suburban set to stop driving in the bike lanes!

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Couple weekend

Made myself some sauteed kale for dinner with a rotisserie chicken that Eddie bought and then made some mashed potatoes. Total comfort food to go with the movies we were on a roll with. Way too many to name but every damn one was great.

This weekend was all about couple time. It’s funny. After 28 years together I feel, at times, all we do is hang with one another. Husbands now. And yet, we still seem to find new things to talk about. Shows to watch. Dreams to share. And yeah, I would like to have been outdoors this weekend, but it ended up being kind of dreamy perfect, with a few sad personal moments from last week sprinkled in, but overall pretty damn great. I’m left feeling kind of grateful for not just Eddie, but everyone who has befriended me as I reached out to a select group of them to help me shoulder some of my Nick grief privately. I’m lucky to have the support of these men and women in my life. I feel humbled even now thinking about that.

Then, of course, moments where I’d catch our youngest cat outdoors “in the wild.” Tongue hanging out being stupid cute.

It’s funny, this idea for a new tattoo kind of came to me last week. I even bought a book about the guy who I am thinking about having his portrait drawn on my leg with one of his quotes. Critically, Thoreau is kind of a dolt. But I like that about him. Maybe even the original millennial from the criticism I’ve read about him. And I love my Millenials, it’s just weird that public opinion is so negative sometimes about a sweeping group of people. Like Henry I suppose. Still, “America’s original nature boy” kind of speaks to me. Gay, introverted, bearded, loved the smell of men’s armpits, lived on his own by a pond in a shack he built on borrowed land and struggled to self promote himself. Well, I guess that’s kind of like so many moments in many of our lives. It’s why I kind of like the guy enough to have him tattooed on my leg I suppose.

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”

Henry David Thoreau

Then, as if it were not enough of a high-low-high weekend I got a group text from my straight buddies in Kentucky who are organizing a hiking trip to the Smokies in July. It’s been on my list of places I need to go since my dad told me his parents used to take him and his brothers there. I wish I could have seen that through some sort of magical replay. But I suppose I can imagine it. And better yet, I will soon be able to smell, taste, hear, see and feel the area first hand. And, while maybe 40 years in the future, form a link to these people who took me into their family as one of their own.

I think one of the things I am left with tonight is that life is a circle. The thing to do is to embrace it. Learn. Walk without fear. Take chances. Get hurt. Be open to change. Fail. Fail again. Laugh it off. Share everything you have.

Uncomfortable solstice

So my friend Nick ended up in ER because his blood pressure spiked to crazy land. His Dr called me with those concerns as it was dangerous post stroke. Sadly, as usual, his medical POA’s, and life long friends said not a word. It’s gross. He had clear intentions of retiring closer to them and actually willed all of his meager belongings to their kids. All of them. Sort of some desperate outreach toward some ephemeral definition of an ideal, yet fictitious, family. And yet, that is not my domain I suppose.

My observations though are coinciding with others. Post-stroke, he’s become even more isolated than ever. I don’t even know what the damage is within his logical capacity. That’s the part of his brain that was damaged. It’s all been, well, something we’ve sort of been denying, learning & constructing around. “He’s doing great!”

There are times when being an extended family is exactly like real family. Part hate, part survival, & part shame. Nick’s friend Tom taught me that. Loud and clear when he suffered death from AIDS months after when he and I went to the same testing clinic in the early 90s together. I came back negative. I was terrified of blowjobs and the misinformation of the day that made sex-lethal just as I was coming of age. Tom and Nick spent the night together after our results came back. They told me to leave them alone as tears welled up in one another’s eyes. I still remember Nick’s overly cautious voice of encouragement for me to leave them that night even tonight. The term empathy does not do him justice. He was more like an oracle crossed with a wise man and fortune teller by nature given what he had experienced through his own life. He was my reason engine. I sorely miss that today.

I guess I’m struggling here. I get called “daddy” by a lot of younger gay guys these days. I guess that’s the zip code I’m in age wise. But… when I think about Nick. He was one of my own dad’s. It breaks my heart to see him sleep himself to death in a room flooded with fluorescent light with his drapes closed while news constantly blasts at him.

I’m good with stripping down, jumping into a lake at night, under the moonlight, with zero shame, buddies and beers. It’s part of the fulcrum I purposely ride these days toward burning away anxiety and fear making way for mystery and life these days. But damn… this slow death that rips away the very being of a person who molded you in many respects as an adult. Like a father. Fuck. It brings me to my knees more often than I care to remember.

Photo by McKayla Crump on Unsplash

I’m not any good at this family stuff. It’s not my wheelhouse. But yet, here I am. An unlikely advocate for a man who has suffered a stroke. Lost his ability to write beyond his eloquent and amazingly researched thoughts. Wit. Humor. Logic. History. It’s all seemingly gone. And yeah, of course, one of my therapists trapped me into an all-out cry session where she called me out for my own “daddy issues,” which pissed me off but made me realize that she was right. I am grieving a loss. I still am tonight after a recent “emergency.”

Sometimes I feel like there’s an explosion going on in my head these days though. An inflexibility as my aunt Lora would probably point out. I can’t accept that my Nick is gone. Forever. And that I am left with someone else. Especially after 30 years of relying on this man for his sharp, and keen, guidance that steered me through so many potentially dangerous spots in my life.

I would not be who I am today without him. I feel crushed by what I can only consider my own failures to him as I watch him hurt now. I don’t know how to deal with this. And yet, I take comfort, in some ways, that I am not alone here. Life is tough. Youth is an illusion. Survival takes balls of steel.

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Mid-June Car Camping

Not all summers are jump into the sunshine, swimsuits on (or off), covered with tanning butter. Yet, rain or shine, there is always something fun to discover if you let yourself be open to chance. It’s funny, I keep reading articles like “Spending time in nature boosts health, study finds” along with books about forest bathing, “The Nature Fix” by Florence Williams and I just can’t help but think that the outdoors is good for people. If nothing more than to reconnect with each other outside of everyone’s patterns, responsibilities, and routines.

So I went back up to Freedom Valley again this weekend. Which should be my last car camping trip as I set my goals back onto my list of backpack overnight hikes I plan to roll with through late July. Friday night was sparse as rain was called for through the weekend. The pool party, as advertised, was already being rescheduled. I’m all for hanging out by the pool when covered with SPF 30+ these days, but I just got a new tattoo a week ago and not having the temptation to submerge in a public pool was probably a good thing.

Warming my boots by the fire… in June

Once I got setup in the already wet and saturated tenting area, I got my fire lit and settled into the business of reading a book while relaxing fireside. I met a couple who were both sanitation workers in Columbus, garbage collectors, at the shot party. I had brought some craft brews from a place called Seventh Son Brewing so I abstained from the hard liquor that was going around as usual. Abstained but I lifted my can with a holler as everyone else did while throwing back the shots together. It always feels like a celebration up there. But yeah, so I paced slowly that night and enjoyed the conversation with the couple. Both really thoughtful, fun, slightly nerdy and down to earth guys.

I got this for hiking so I could have a single beer on the trail at night – came in handy though this weekend!

After the party, I meandered down to my campsite and the low burning remnants of my fire. I turned in a little after midnight as a buddy and his friend showed up and we hung out for a bit. Sleep is always a great outdoors for me. I think it’s the ambient noise. We had a few showers though which was kind of a treat in a way though. Lazy light early summer rain. The kind I really enjoy running in outdoors on the multi-use trails near my home.

Morning came. Made coffee with my French Press rig that fits into my Jet Boil cooking system. It actually makes pretty decent coffee. While I tried to start the fire, it was very wet at this point and, while I got it lit it never truly got hot enough to cook over. That was one of the points of this trip. I brought a steel fire pit grilling grate with me, a new spatula and skillet with some eggs, low-fat chicken sausage, and hash browns. Instead, I gave up the goat and drove 20 miles to the closest town to go to Bob Evans and then to Target to get a super cheap sleeping bag as I forgot mine. This, given what was to come Saturday night through Sunday, was not a bad thing. Down does not fare too well in wet conditions. You could sort of tell something was in the air by the look of the ducks and seeing the cows on the farms I passed by all hunkered down into groups taking as much shelter together as possible.

Ducks taking shelter in the parking lot

There were two friends I ran into that night whom I’d met with a mutual friend of ours last year while we were camping. I like to think of these guys as goth-hippie-crafters with Etsy shops. We stood around their fire, which they kept going strong through the day, as it was sort of getting chilly and felt like imminent rain on the horizon. People were talking about “should I stay or go” because of the flash flood watch and the history of flooding in the tent valley area. We chose to stay.

Laughs, beers, and conversations were had by all. I started to feel like turning in though so I departed, battened down the hatches and fell asleep around 9. I woke up at about 10 pm to a steady strong rain that was falling which nearly immediately put me back into the sleep I’d just poked out of. The rain kept up all night, heavy at times, through the morning. Looking around, I could see the drainage ditches being breached by water and the area behind us near the river was rising pretty quickly as well so I decided to high tail it, along with at least 10 other campers, before things got complicated.

On the way home I thought about the past several years of going to places like this, State Campgrounds, National Parks and Forests and just sort of felt really grateful overall to have the chance to enjoy the outdoors again. Meeting new people. Sharing what we have with each-other while away from home. For laughter, campfire and, yes, rain. It was kind of nice to see that campground settle down into groupings of people sheltering in the storms that passed through while still having fun all the way through the weekend.

Sometimes it’s like…

All my gear has been hung out to dry. All I need to do is repack it and then shift toward my backpacking inventory. I plan to try a single person trekking pole tent out for the first time next weekend. A hiking buddy of mine gave me his prototype. The plus here is that it’s half the weight of my own single person tent thus reducing my base weight. The campfire ring grill experiment will have to wait for at least 3 weeks if I remember my schedule right. I have trips to Hoosier National Forest and some State Parks with hiking trail backpack loops coming up to look forward to on the agenda.

Of course, my mind is now zooming in on the week ahead and all the salads and greens I need to consume this week as we got a ton of those now from Yellow Bird since it’s the late spring early summer harvest season. And, for the first time ever, figuring out what to do with garlic scrapes! Story to follow.

Garlic scrapes
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Rhubarb sauce & greens

I spent the past weekend in last years camping hammock, strung up on my balcony at home, reading a book by Robert Moor titled “On Trails.” He brings up the question surrounding why living things developed the evolutionary ability to pull themselves across a terrain creating trails. He spent a good deal of time exploring the 100’s of millions of years old Precambrian fossils with some scientists in Newfoundland where he examined the fossil evidence of animals called Ediacarans. This leads him to wonder about what evolutionary decision-making framework split these creatures into things like fungus versus humans. As the book is a study of trails, he talks about eras in literature where people, evidently, had an abhorrence of trail-less wilds after the Roman Empire fell. And, somewhat whimsically, the Newfoundland Fairy Trails. I’ve only made a small dent in the book so far but it has my attention and is very well written/researched.

Hanging around in my hammock
Everyone should have a hammock

In the back of my mind, however, was a bunch of fresh Ohio rhubarb in the fridge that we got from a recent Yellow Bird shipment. It’s one of those vegetables that remind me of being a kid and, like some yokel’s child, sitting in a friend of my mom’s house, on the ground, uprooting stalks of rhubarb and gnawing on it raw. It has this crazy tart flavor which is, oddly, appealing. Anyway, I splurged fat wise and got some pork chops (trimmed off the extra fat that I could), made a rhubarb sauce, served that with the last of our winter sweet potatoes by mashing them with garlic and herbs alongside a heap of sauteed greens in onion and garlic with a bit of lemon and olive oil. It was a lot of flavors, savory, and really good.

Processing greens for the saute pan
The making of rhubarb sauce for pork chops

For morning meals, I’ve been making a blend of whey protein, psyllium seed fiber, banana, blueberries, strawberries, low-fat peanut butter, nonfat Greek Yogurt, a bit of maple syrup and skim milk. That, with a chaser of decaf coffee, seems to wake me up enough for the day ahead.

Antioxidant surprise

Looking ahead, I’m looking forward to a short getaway this weekend to do a little car camping where I hope to play around with some fire pit cooking for the first time ever. Things like breakfast scrambles, trout, vegetables and of course salads and pita with hummus are on the menu. What a treat in comparison to rehydrated backpackers fare. Failure or not, there will be a write-up. One of the main things I plan to do however is to start my research on The Wonderland Trail around Mt Rainier in Tacoma Washington as Doug and I are once again thinking about doing something a little challenging together hiking wise in 2020. It’s funny, I recently read a post about the Japanese idea of “ikigai“. It immediately rang an inner bell that told me this was the missing piece I was looking for in relation to how I wanted to finish off this body of tattoo work. Specifically my chest area. The idea roughly means “what is your reason for living? After talking with Andy over at Man St Collective I said I wanted Mt Rainier on my torso, in large format, if we swing the Wonderland Trail. That got his head working and he came up with an initial idea of a topological map of the trail itself surrounding the mountain. Perfect I thought to myself. While we are halfway through, I think, my left arm which is turning out to be exactly what I wanted, we still have the right arm to go, so this goal is at least a year away… giving me some time to see about that 93 miles, very difficult, nearly two weeks, hiking trail in Washington called The Wonderland after all. As with all things, time will tell.

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