Gratin Dauphinois

Gratin Dauphinois

Saturday I decided to make a gratin.

We have storage potatoes although it will soon be time to plant them in the garden.

I’d been thinking about gratin for a week.

Scouring cookbooks for a recipe, the dish appears to have fallen from grace from modern, comprehensive guidebooks in my collection. I settled on the simplicity of Julia Child’s Gratin Dauphinois from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

I modified the recipe to use ingredients on hand — white sharp cheddar for Swiss, skim milk for whole — and otherwise followed her direction diligently. If you don’t know Child’s masterwork I encourage you to discover it today. My results from using her recipes have been timeless and always delicious.

What may be funny is I gave no thought to what to serve with the gratin. If I lived by myself, I would have eaten the gratin and called it a meal. The grace of being married 35 years is it encourages one to be a better person. We settled on a vegetarian chik patty and steamed broccoli as accompaniment. For beverage I drank cool, filtered water as my cold tapers off.

Saturday afternoons are my time in the kitchen. I miss the old routine of listening to Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion while preparing dinner. I tune to the classical radio station but it isn’t the same. The scent of rubbed garlic from the baking dish arouses memories of past meals — especially those I prepared with our daughter when she lived in Colorado. Fond memories in a life that’s changing more each day.

I’ll get by. The gratin helps.

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Brief Political Briefing

Jackie Norris in Coralville, Iowa Feb. 1, 2018

Jackie Norris spoke on behalf of her husband, Iowa gubernatorial candidate John Norris, last night at the Johnson County Democrats central committee meeting.

In terms of political star quality, Norris’ light was brighter than anyone else in the room. A long-time and well known political operative, she served as Michelle Obama’s first White House chief of staff.

Her connections with the group were deep, revisiting the 1984 presidential campaign of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and a host of others during her ten minute speech. I re-read our correspondence from 2008 for this post and was reminded how persistent, diligent and professional she was then and still is.  I’ve often thought she should be running for governor instead of her husband.

There were more political speeches than usual at the last central committee meeting before the group is re-elected at Monday’s Iowa caucus.

Secretary of State candidate Deidre DeJear spoke. She seemed credible and was very well-spoken. Already I like her better than perennial candidate Jim Mowrer who announced for Secretary of State first. She seemed so fresh, and alive last night. Just what Democrats need going into the midterms.

All three announced candidates for State Senate District 37 spoke to the group. Their names are Eric Dirth, Zach Wahls and Janice Weiner. As mentioned previously, I’m with Wahls, but Weiner gave the strongest speech in the room.

The question no one is asking about the Iowa Democratic gubernatorial race is will Fred Hubbell continue to donate to Iowa Democratic candidates if he loses the primary? In 2014, he was the largest single donor to Jack Hatch’s gubernatorial campaign at $75,000. During the last 16 years, he gave $550,885 to Democratic candidates, according the the campaign finance website Follow the Money. While I don’t hear people talking about this aspect of the Hubbell campaign, it’s an idea I’m putting out there. I suspect candidates are treading water on this. They want to win the primary but in a midterm cycle, general election campaign money will be more difficult to raise. Donors like Hubbell will be needed more than ever.

I continue to have laryngitis so I quarantined myself in the back of the room. By the end of the meeting, a number of people joined me in back. I guess that means politics is contagious.

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Sleeping In, Waking Up, What Next?

Brian Bedford, left, as Lady Bracknell and Charlotte Parry as Cecily Cardew in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” a 2010 production at the American Airlines Theater. (Photo Credit: New York Times)

It’s 48 days until full retirement and I can’t wait to let loose from the lowly paid work that has sustained us for over two years.

Completely ceasing work is not now, nor will it ever be in the cards. Work is what keeps us bound to our common humanity. To stop is to give up on life.

I’m not giving up on anything except the job at the home, farm and auto supply store.

After two weeks duration, a viral infection is in decline. The best sign of it was sleeping through the night, waking up, then going back to sleep for another hour. Well rested, I ask what’s next?

A better question: will it be more of the same, or something new?

Our brains become wired to want more of the same, so there will be some of that: cooking, gardening, farm work, reading, and home improvements. The challenge will be to do new things, write from a new perspective, and work toward gaining a better understanding of society. To get started, I plan to take it easy for a week or so. After that I don’t know.

That’s a lie. I do know I’ll be picking a major writing project and celebrating spring by planting our garden. There’s a long to-do list around the house and yard. Before I get caught up in more of the same, I must take a moment and breathe spring’s sweet air.

It won’t be long.

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Influenza, Viruses and Sickness in the Land

Vegetarian Soup Stock

On Monday I went to the Urgent Care clinic for a persistent cold.

After a thorough examination, and many questions about the trajectory of symptoms, doctor leaned against the counter in the small examination room and pronounced, “it’s viral.” It could persist for another two weeks, she said.

I’ve run the course of Benzonate she prescribed for the cough. It is getting better. She wrote a second prescription for Amoxicillin and said hold it to see how things progressed. Later this morning, I’ll get it filled. I’m on the mend, but not well.

At least 43 Iowans died from influenza and viruses this season. Because of the delay in autopsy results, the actual number is likely higher.

At the home, farm and auto supply store employees have symptoms similar to mine. The store manager distributed a couple dozen aerosol cans of Lysol so we would keep everything sprayed down and hopefully disinfected. I don’t know if I gave the virus to others, or they gave it to me, but the whole workforce is coping. We are a sick land this January.

Today is the first time I’ve been able to concentrate on anything, and there is a backlog of post ideas and work delayed. Yet, I’m still here, sustaining our lives in a turbulent world.

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Politics and Real Zach Wahls

2018 will be an amazing year for Democrats, win or lose. Even so, I’ve been slow to engage, that is, until Zach Wahls announced his campaign for State Senate District 37.

First I said no politics until after the June 5 primary. An aging, low-wage worker doesn’t have bandwidth for everything and I know both my limits and what politics can demand.

That didn’t last long. I volunteered to be temporary chair at our Feb. 5 precinct caucus.

However, the 2018 political campaign began for me at 8:54 a.m. Jan. 13 with this.

Zach Wahls had been in Tipton for a morning meet and greet at D’Alicias Cupcakery and Cafe. He held his first campaign event in the City of Solon that afternoon.

Wahls is running in the June 5 Democratic primary against Janice Weiner to replace retiring State Senator Bob Dvorsky in the general election. The filing period doesn’t start until February, so there could be other candidates for this open seat. No Republican has declared in the race.

Janice Weiner in Tipton, Jan. 13, 2018

I was in Tipton to speak at a gathering of Indivisible Iowa and Weiner spoke as well.

Weiner’s credentials are impressive, especially her work for the U.S. State Department and as a Stanford intern working on policy for then San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein.

Her uphill climb to a primary win will be a lack of name recognition, and articulation of her views and credentials. Wahls’ challenges are different and unique.

If people know Zach Wahls, it is likely from the speech he gave in Des Moines in 2011. As of today it has more than 3.2 million views on YouTube and created an internet sensation. He must balance internet celebrity with grassroots campaigning among people who may not have heard of him. He had a great start in Solon.

Zach Wahls and Marcia Gaffney in Solon, Iowa, Jan. 13, 2018.

About 35 people, young and old, gathered at Solon’s old middle school on a winter Saturday to meet and hear Wahls. Political pal and city councilor Lauren Whitehead and I organized the multi-layered event. Attendees who came and went during a two-hour period included a small group of boy scouts, school-age children, long-time political activists, local business people, a labor leader, Democratic central committee members and the president of the Solon School Board, a registered Republican.

Wahls gave a brief speech regarding his personal history and three legislative priorities: healthcare, education and workers’ rights. He took questions as long as people asked them and impressed with his depth of knowledge about policy issues that mattered to attendees. Wahls has experience in public speaking since the viral video but seemed genuine and unrehearsed in answering questions about tax policy, education, Medicaid, mental health, labor, law enforcement, water quality and other topics. He hung around after the formal part of the gathering to speak individually and take photos. He even helped clean up the room.

The real Zach Wahls literally hit the streets on Saturday where I met him. As district voters get to know him there is a lot to like. He gained at least this supporter in the process.

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Through a Glass Darkly

Sutliff Bridge at Night

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:12 (King James)

The story of Paul of Tarsus, his conversion and writings are essential to my world view. Paul stands equally with René Descartes in forming a view that isolation from what exists, then taking measured actions to engage, is what we humans can do to get along in society.

When I was a grader I discovered if you write people, they may write back. With that in mind, I wrote my State Representative at the beginning of the second half of the 87th Iowa General Assembly.


Good luck with the 2018 session.

As I have in the past, I’ll let you know my priorities as bills advance in the legislature.

Republicans have an opportunity to turn around the tax situation in the state. I believe the only chance for success is to review the entire income and expense process in a holistic manner and effect changes that balance the budget on both the revenue and expense sides. State law requires a balanced budget. Taking continuous budget cuts because the revenue side is out of whack is not sustainable.

The context of the new federal tax law is important, but the state should not presume tax cuts are needed. It means making administration more efficient, funding compliance efforts for existing laws, and reviewing every decision made regarding taxation since Governor Branstad was elected in 2010. Insufficient attention has been paid to whether his solutions worked or not, and Medicaid privatization stands out as something that clearly isn’t working for parties involved. Republicans have teed up a big opportunity this session. What kind of legislators will you be?

My hope is you will encourage members of your caucus to avoid partisan solutions and use your votes to make a difference for everyone in the district.

A group of farmer friends would like to attend an early listening post, so please keep me informed when and where they will be held. I favor the ones in Bennett, Lowden, Wilton and Durant since there is a better cross section of the district in attendance. We’d go anywhere in the district to hear you speak. :)

Thanks for your work in the legislature.

Regards, Paul

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Sixty Nine Days

Saturday Dinner

It’s sixty nine days until what I hope is my last day of work at the home, farm and auto supply store… and “full retirement.”

The paradigm upon which we based our life in Big Grove shifted. We settled here to be close to work, raise our daughter, and live happily ever after.

Our home is older (as are we), our daughter left Iowa after college, leaving us with the happily ever after. The latter has me stuck.

During bitter cold days, I spend most of my time in the living room, the kitchen, the bedroom, or at my writing table. This weekend I left the house once to get the mail. The tendency is to drift toward the last day of work, delaying everything until then. That’s not really an option with the community work I’ve undertaken and plans made. One foot in front of the other, onward I must go.

The ambient temperature warmed 46 degrees since yesterday morning. If I were a bear, I’d sense winter hibernation is almost over. Instead, this human is in between recovering from a week of physical labor and endeavoring to get busy with one of many projects. Today it’s not going as well as I’d like on either front.

I worked on a local version of dal, cooking the first recipe today. Using 1-1/4 cups lentils, three cups of vegetable broth, turmeric, cumin, hot red pepper, fresh garlic and vegetable oil, the first batch came out edible but not delicious. The idea is to replace the pre-cooked version I’ve been buying at the warehouse club with home made. The recipe creation process will take a while because each batch must be eaten: a person can only eat so much dal per week. After six or seven iterations, if I’m lucky, the finished dish might get to the delicious stage.

Last night I made dinner of corn-rice casserole, steamed peas and a mixture of roasted butternut squash and sweet potatoes. Saturdays have been my night to cook so Jacque has a meal ready when she gets off work. When Garrison Keillor was on A Prairie Home Companion, that provided background noise. Now the radio stays mostly off, or tuned to the classical music station. Another shift in the predictability of our lives.

All this is not to say I seek a rocking chair in which to sit until life departs this frame. Not at all. However, the combination of cold weather, bones, feet and back aching from physical work, and a restlessness about living happily ever after has me stymied.

Just as the cold snap is over, and there’s hope the recipe will eventually turn out well, I’ll get going. Sixty nine days out retirement seems unseen below the horizon. Much remains to be done and I feel myself waking and wondering what will be next.

I’d be good with happily ever after, but not ready to believe it’s possible.

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