A Quick Broccoli and Cheese Soup Recipe

(Bear in mind, adding the proper seasonings as you cook and before serving is of the utmost importance)

I’ve tried many recipes and many “expensive” canned versions.  This is exquisite in taste and texture.  It does take a few minutes to make…but is worth the effort.

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

½ cup white onions, diced

Salt & Fresh ground white pepper

Pinch fresh ground netmeg

½ teaspoon fresh minced garlic

½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups unsalted chicken broth or stock

6 oz fresh broccoli crowns

½ cup cream

1 cup fresh grated mild cheddar cheese

Croutons for garnish

Directions

Chop broccoli crowns  into 1 inch pieces.  Stem for about 1 minute.  Drain and reserve.

In a medium pot, melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat.  Add onions, salt, pepper, and nutmeg to cook, stirring until soft for 3 minutes.  Add the garlic and thyme and cook, stirring for 20 seconds.  Add the flour and cook stirring until it is well blended, about 2 minutes.  Add the chicken stock, whisk and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes.  Add the broccoli and cook for 8 minutes.

Remove the pot from heat and puree with a hand-held blender or in a food processor and return to pot.

Add the cream and bring to a slow boil to heat through, adding the cheese until melted.  Add the remaining 2 tablespoons cold butter, stir to blend.

Remove from heat, add a swirl of sour cream, croutons, and serve.

Note: Make croutons, buy croutons, or serve with toasted ciabatta bread.

May be time for a change of venue.

Being slapped in the face with the reality of ones mortality (again) gives cause for thoughts of change.

I’ve been quite the reflective lad in recent years – resurrecting old photos gives rise to this sort of demeanor.  I enjoy it and will always find some solitude in reviewing past good times.  But Loretta and I have been giving serious consideration for a change of venue again.  We’ve been in the valley (coming from the Central Coast) now going on 14 years.  It may be time to pause the reflecting and bring forth some thought to the future.

This time it stems not only from a disdain for the locale in which we now reside, but to real future plans as to where we want  to “pasture” ourselves…for truly positive reasons.  We’re considering moving one more time.

The list of geographic candidates in relatively short.  Seattle, the Central Coast (our last longtime stomping grounds), and Albuquerque.  We’ve discussed other places but they fall short of compelling reasons to move there.

Our goal is to make a move before next summer.

Weather (good and bad) is certainly a determining factor.  Even Loretta has grown tired of the oppressive summers here in the central valley.  Her “fear” of copious amounts of precipitation in the pacific northwest has faded a bit as well.

The specter of moving anywhere is probably the biggest deterrent.  Geeze, let’s face it.  Packing up and blowing town will not be as easy for us as in past moves. Packing up and moving to another state?  Even more daunting.  Securing employment prior to the move (believe it or not) is the least of our concerns. I am confident we can both secure transfers from our current employer.

Without sounding totally narcissistic, we must make this decision with our own well being at the top of the Pros list.

There will always be the option of not going anywhere.  We’ve talked about that. We are pretty comfortable in our current situation.  That would be the least difficult thing to do, or more accurately, not do – stay here.

Staying here will illicit a lot of “what if’s”.  Moving anywhere may bring about some, Lord please forgive me, regrets.  With that in mind, whatever we do or don’t do, I must reconcile this decision beforehand.  I must be confident that whatever decision we make is the right and proper thing to do – we must pull the cord, execute the logistics, and move forward with only vigor and positive thoughts…even if we stay here.

Today, this morning, we have not made the decision regarding any move.  I feel that commitment best be set aside until after the surgery.  Certainly the outcome and prognosis from that will weight heavily on what we ultimately do.  Whatever we end up doing will surely solicit opinions from others, mostly well-meaning Devil’s Advocate type advice like, “Are you sure you wanna do this?”  I will welcome those thoughts presented with a caring for our well being, which is how we are approaching this move/no move decision as well.

Quite honestly, at this point, we are leaning toward Seattle.  I like wearing sweaters!

“Hey, dude…let’s party!”

We used to entertain a lot.  Entertain meaning having people over for dinners and barbeques.

Summer meant barbeques.  Winter meant dinner parties.

During the 80’s when my kids were growing up, their mother and I were very social animals.  We had both been in the radio broadcasting/advertising industry for quite a while in S.L.O., and we just knew a lot of people.  Seemed that most of the time the party was at our house.  Near the weekend the conversation went something like, “Who do we want to have over this weekend?”  It was almost never a question of “Do we want to have anyone over”  it was a question of “Who” and “How many?” every weekend.  Ah, weekends off…I digress.

Even in the years following our move to Modesto, Loretta and I remained the “dinner party people”.  We had large Christmas parties, pool parties, and barbeques. It was easy to decide who to invite to the Christmas parties, we just invited most everyone Loretta and I worked with…and they would show up.  Many dinner parties were a bit more intimate – two couples was pretty standard.  It was best to invite two couples instead of one for social “balance”, ie, so we wouldn’t be stuck with all the conversation making, especially while I was usually ensconced in the prepping and making of dinner.  We had a routine.  And, Loretta was always the perfect hostess, fetching drink refills, handing out appetizers as they came out of the pan or oven, and just being her usual gregarious self.  Besides having a large social list from both of our workplaces, we were also Harley riders.  We definitely “traveled” in two different circles at the same time.  Once in a while those circles intertwined socially, but not often.

As the years went by, our entertaining waned quite a bit.  In fact, for the past three years or so it has waned down to nothing.  One reason being that we got tired of doing 99% of the inviting.  It wasn’t that we weren’t invited to parties because they didn’t like us.  We were rarely invited because 99% of these folks didn’t do any entertaining themselves!  This phenomenon happened to us in the 80’s as well.  We just got tired of doing it, almost never going to anyone else’s home.  Since we haven’t ridden (the Harley, it has been sold) for a few years, the motorcycle crowd is not part of our social scheme any longer either.

We do on occasion yearn to have folks over.  Our little rental house now is nowhere near the entertaining venue our previous house was.  It’s just not practical or logistically possible to do same “job” we used to.  Truthfully, I think we just got tired of it.  And, we have become such private homebodies I guess we would rather keep to ourselves now.  Perhaps I am the culprit in this anti-social metamorphosis.  Fact is, I know I am.  Loretta is most always up for anything I suggest.  Hell, I just don’t suggest it any more!  She has always been and always will be a super hostess, but she isn’t a planner or a cook (self and unashamedly admitted).  And, I like her just the way she is.

I remember one particularly large and involved backyard party we put on.  It was a theme party:  wear tropical clothing like a luau.  We made tropical drinks (Pina Coladas and Daquiris) and I made a huge pan of paella.  In the middle of our feast under the gazebo by the pool, one male guest commented, “Man, this is almost as good as Marie Calendar’s!”  Loretta and I have discussed this comment a few times over the years came to a consensus about this clown’s intent when making that statement.  We’re leaning toward the fact that he was simply a partially retarded social ingrate moron and was NOT making an innocent joke.  Either way, it may have been the turning point in our entertaining schedule – ingratitude for our efforts and no-shows can put a damper on the type of socializing we did.

Today, I get requests all the time for Loretta and I to have dinner parties, “Oh, please have us over.  Skip is such a good cook!”  Loretta’s outgoing congeniality and bragging about my kitchen talents solicits these requests.  “It would be so much fun to come over to your house” comes mostly from the young ones (under thirty).  The older ones sound enthusiastic as well but wreak of “no show syndrome”. It has happened before, even recently.  Hey, what’s the deal with inviting yourself, jerking us off into planning something, then flaking out or (worse) not showing up?  A few months ago, I spent most of the entire day prepping and cooking a dinner party meal and the couple called an hour before and said they couldn’t make it, “She’s not feeling well today, sorry…I owe you big time!”  No, you don’t owe me anything.  You just no longer have any chance in hell of ever being invited over.

When we had parties years ago, even the “kids” would show up.  The ages ran the gamut.  People felt comfortable around us and we made them feel at home.

I write this now because there isn’t a weekend goes by without me thinking about having folks over.  I feel much of this longing to socialize like we used to comes from the fact that my daughter Jen and her husband Roth have picked up that gauntlet (in Seattle) and so they do what we used to do.  They are both “foodies” and Roth is an exceptional cook.  When my kids were “kids”, we hung out with couples just like us…couples with young kids.  Part of the “mix” included a few DINKs of course, but the kid-couples had children the same age as ours…voila, instant self babysitting.  Trading babysitting chores (or combining them) was a benefit of knowing these people as well.

So, I live the dinner party social scene vicariously through Jen and Roth for now.  “Hey, Dad, I’m sauteing leeks for the risotto.  I’ve gotten pretty good at it!”, she tells me on the phone. My response, “Wild mushrooms too?  Take your time with the risotto, don’t rush it”.  “Dad…I know!”

“Hey, dud…let’s party!”  I don’t often say that line from Fast Times at Ridgemont High any longer.  Believe it or not, during a time in my life I was a close vision to Jeff Spicoli!  I had my “fast times” already, more than my share.  Geeze, I’d still like to bust out a cool dinner for guests once in a while.  Loretta and I joke, “Let’s take out an ad in the classified section” – Dinner Guests Wanted.  Must be willing to commit to a specific date and time and show up ON TIME.  Must drink moderately, no self righteous Carrie Nation Jimmy Swaggart types.  No drugs.  No freaks.  No kids.  No in-laws. No pets. I cook, you BYOB.  Submit interest via email with a one-page about yourselves, any food allergies, and a recent photo.  Funny, but we knew a couple years ago that showed up to each every dinner with the guy’s mother in tow.  Sweet lady who dressed like SNL’s Church Lady. I just couldn’t look at those mid-calf, orthopedic hose any more! He soon fell off the “list” as well.  LMAO!

Behind the mask. Am I ready to reveal what is there yet?

Where do you start to write about finding out you have cancer?  What is there to say that hasn’t been said or written a thousand times before?  How does one react to this kind of news?  How does one respond to the concern and sympathy without sounding glib, trite, somber, or pathetic?  These are just a few of the questions I am asking myself this morning, now less than two weeks from having the surgery.

I’ve always been one those, “Aw, shucks…thanks, but it’s no big deal!” kind of guy.  Throughout my life, when receiving a compliment, I’ve tended to be a bit dubious of the messenger’s intentions.  Paranoid may be more accurate.  Worried that person was just putting me on.  Over the years as I got older I have managed to overcome most of this worry and just accept compliments, or, in the case now, accept the concern.

Over the course of a few days, how many people ask you, “Hey, how’s it going?”  Since I tend to be relatively gregarious to co-workers, ie, make eye contact, smile, nod, or ask, “How ya’ doing to most everyone”, I also receive much of that in return.  The ones who never say, “Hello” back or acknowledge my greeting reap what they sow from me.  I now ignore them instead of wondering why they never respond.  I have enough problems than to worry about socially inept ingrates.

“Hey, good.  How you doin’?” in a mock Tony Soprano sort of way is my usual response to someone asking me the question, “How are you?”  The environment in which I work (a large retail store) brings with it much face to face contact with co-workers and customers.  It is unavoidable.  This work space is also very sociable in that we all take lunches and breaks in a small area, it’s difficult to go unnoticed.  Despite my early childhood shyness, I seem to have morphed into a friendly, very approachable, likeable person in public arenas.  I do make eye contact.  I do smile at people if not offer some sort of greeting.  I have become so opposite of what I was as a child it’s a bit scary.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not obnoxiously outgoing by any means, but usually very quiet, laid back, friendly and…approachable.

With this being known, a lot of folks know my name at work, not just because we wear name tags.  They just know who I am: the tall, older, balding, friendly,white guy in the photo department who knows a lot about cameras and such.  I must tell you that a enjoy this mundane, if not perceived notoriety.  The many casual relationships I have cultivated over the last three years mean a lot to me, especially when the going gets rough…like now.

Getting back to that mutual hallway greeting, “Hey, how are you today?”.  Saying “Great”, or on particularly trying days saying, “Eh, not bad” just doesn’t seem right at this point.  So, what do I say now?  What is my proper response?  Should I say, “Eh, trying to figure out how to deal with the recent knowledge that I have cancer.  And even though my prognosis is far better than many other co-workers here who have cancer and other issues much worse than I, I’m not doing too well.  I have good days and bad days.  Positive days and negative days.  I’m in constant pain now for seven months, but that may be to my sick gall bladder that is going to be removed during the surgery along with a third of my colon, and not the cancer.  Oh, I also have an occasional bout with angina, probably due to stress.  There, I’ve said it.  There is always that enigma rearing it’s ugly head at the most inopportune times like last night after a full day of burning pain in my abdomen, I had to pop a nitro tablet for the first time in my life due to the angina pain.  You know, other than that…I guess I’m good!  Thanks for asking.  And you?”  Somehow, this doesn’t seem practical.

Having a dry wit and using it to deal with stress, pain, and ugly health issues seems to be my milieu, my ballywick, my way of dealing with things like this.  Have I cried about it?  Just once, kind of.  It was a half-assed choked up half-cry when I talked to Loretta on the phone right after receiving the results from the biopsy. I managed to suppress any dripping tears as I was at work and not in a private area.  Most of my emotions since hearing the news have gone to anger.  Believe me, I’d rather have a good ball than be pissed off! Yes, I ain’t too happy about it at all.  Mostly, I’m pissed at myself for being in this situation and putting Loretta and my family through it AGAIN.  Perhaps there was nothing I could have done different to avoid all of this, I realize that.  I remember asking my cardiologist after my bi-pass surgery almost 15 years ago, “Hey, doc.  When did these blockages in my arteries start growing?” “At the latest, when you were about 17 most likely.  Possibly as early as the day you were born”.  “OK, so if I had been eating bean sprouts and tofu all my life, exercising without fail, and never smelling a cigarette…would that have made a difference?”  “Probably not.  You are a classic case of genetic predisposition considering your father’s health and your grandfather’s early death from a heart attack.  It’s probably 80% hereditary”.  Well, alright then.  I’ve been exonerated from blame!  I’m laughing out loud at myself as I write this.  And you know, a good laugh is almost as satisfying as a good cry.

I now respond to my co-workers who ask, “How’s it going?”, with this, “OK…surgery is August 26th”.  It’s funny, the responses are varied to that answer.  For some, their mouths drop open and they ask for details, legitimate concern.  For others, “Hey, good luck!” is what I get back.  And from some, all I get is a blank stare,  a spin of their heels, and a walk away without saying anything back.  I think I just blew those people’s minds and they simply don’t know how to respond.  Picture them holding one of those Wiley Coyote signs that reads, “Shit!  I didn’t expect him to say that.  Let me outta here!”  Poof! Gone in a cloud of dust.  I don’t blame them.  I feel fortunate I can still use them for humor in this blog.

In a nutshell, I must deal with this cancer thing in the most pragmatic of ways, the way I have been dealing with it.  I’ve tried to keep all my closest friend (yes, that’s singular) and relatives apprised of what’s going on as soon as possible (at their request).  I’ve tried to maintain a positive attitude, soldier through the bouts of pain and avoid the abyss.  The abyss where I see myself staring back wondering how to get out.  I refuse to go there.  (I stole this metaphor from the movie Wall Street, thanks Oliver Stone).

I appreciate and savor each and every well wish from each and every person who has and will express concern.  None of it goes unheard or unappreciated. My wife, Loretta, my children, my siblings, my mother, and my best friend are all inexhaustible sources of inspiration and strength for me.  I can’t imagine having to go through this without them.  Saying “Thanks” isn’t enough, but it is all I have for now.

I hope this helps those who are wondering better understand where my head is right now.  My true feelings can tend to be a bit shrouded at times, masked.  I think I’m just plain scared shitless to see what is under this mask if I can ever really get the damn thing off!

Pets and screaming children in public…shoot me now!

Here are two things I’d like to hear more from store and restaurant managers…

“Excuse me, but would you please remove your (insert any animal species here) from the store, they’re not allowed to be in here?”  and “Excuse me, but would you remove your screaming child from the restaurant until he/she calms down.  You’re upsetting the rest of my customers?”

There are so many things in this world today I don’t understand.  Wars, hijackers, gangster mentality, the government’s lack of effectiveness, facial hardware, rude people, bizarre foods, Jersey Shore (and most other reality programs), expensive vodka, cancer, and so on.  Most I simply toss off and file under “Things I will never understand”.  But this one just gets my goat mostly because I have to look at it every day.  Bringing dogs into grocery stores and allowing children to throw screaming fits anywhere in public!

Perhaps it’s not the mere fact that I see on a daily basis people with their dogs in grocery carts shopping for food.  I think what I don’t understand is why store managers don’t turn these misguided people around, show them where they came in, and politely throw their asses out!  What is the reason these obsessed pooch people are allowed to do this?

Not solely in shopping carts.  Not just “I feel like I’m rich so I have a need to carry around and be seen with an expensive little dog” sickness.  But large, scroungy dogs on leashes as well.  One of these larger canines squatted right in front of the my camera department a few months ago and took a giant crap.  The owner could do nothing but stand by with leash in hand and embarrassingly giggle at passersby watching the whole thing.  What else could she do?  Let’s face it…when a dogs gets in that position, it’s a done deal.  Well, I will tell you what she should have done.  She should have left the damn dog at home!  Gimme a break!

I place total and complete blame and responsibility for this heinous practice on the store company and the managers.  They let them do it now! And they let them do it because they are afraid of losing a customer.

I worked as a restaurant manager for many years.  And when someone would try to bring their animal into the restaurant my question to them (before they sat down) was, “May I see your Guide Dog license and permit?”  You see, licensed guide dog or companion dog trainers, licensed by the state, must be allowed to bring their well-trained, dogs into your establishment.  It’s the law.  The key word here is “licensed”.  You need a state permit to do this, not simply answering that question with, ‘Yes, it is a guide dog”.

Some people go so far as to make up their own little doggy jackets that say something like, “Companion dog”, or “Spike goes everywhere with me”, or some other contrived, nefarious line of BS to have their dog with them shopping or worse under the table at a restaurant.  How cute (?).  Not at all.

Regarding the above photo…do you want to have your bunch of bananas or cantaloupe or bag of spinach sitting in that basket after some little mutt has spent an hour dragging his ass around in it?  Bottom line: I think not.

I realize that in France patrons are allowed to bring their animals almost everywhere.  So be it.  Move to friggin’ France!  I also realize that a human baby sitting in the child’s seat has more germs than a dog.  Don’t even go there.  I know that.  I still don’t understand it all.  I still don’t get why stores allow dogs in the store and in shopping carts, especially grocery stores.  Geeze, they don’t even allow you have your dog at an outside farmers market!

There have been several news stories of late about restaurants not allowing children below a certain age in restaurants.  I raise my hand to this practice and say, “It’s about time”.  I say yes to children…no to misbehaved children who are allowed to go on and on with their fits of rage.  And, by the way, I’m not a proponent of public corporal punishment or the dispensing of lengthy behavioral lessons (usually to no avail) at the expense of other customers nearby.  Remove the child with the errant behavior outside until the situation is diffused.  Or, and better yet, train them properly at home and don’t bring them into those environs until the time is “right”.  There will always be public breakdowns with babies and children…but do the right thing right then and have some respect for others and the dignity to practice this on a regular basis.  If not for others, for the dignity, upbringing, and well being of the child!

Have I completely forgotten those times when my kids were very young and didn’t behave properly in public?  Not at all.  I removed them from the store or restaurant until they calmed down.  Have I ever taken a pet into a grocery store or restaurant (not counting PetCo or Petsmart where they welcome this).  Never.  Did I ever refuse service to someone with a “fake” companion dog, ie, no license or permit?  Absolutely.  Were these people unhappy about it.  Absolutely.  Did the majority of other customers applaud my action?  Absolutely.  Did I lose a customer? Probably.  Did I endear the other patrons to my establishment and my decision to respect their rights over the “right” of one other individual.  I would hope so.  And now (where I am not the manager and making a decision like that would cost me my job), I cannot respect the wishes of the majority.  I must simply bite my lip and cast a disparaging glance at disrespectful customers who are allowed to do whatever they wish.

What can you or I do if we don’t appreciate this practice?  We certainly have a right to say something to the offending person.  Better yet, we have an unquestionable right to complain to management.

Not too long ago, some customers in the store where I work complained to management about three young girls in the store in bikinis looking for suntan lotion.  Yes, they were asked to leave!  Mercy, where’s the equity in all this?

Where do you stand?  Dogs and screaming kids…or bikinis? Or neither.

“Well, here’s another nice mess…!”

To quote two of my favorite comedians of all time, Laurel & Hardy,  “Well, here’s another nice mess we’ve gotten ourselves into!”  

The proctodoc who did the colonoscopy called me at work today with the news that biopsied mass is colon cancer.  The polyps were not, but could have gone that way.  I have a consultation with the surgeon on Mon morning and I will hopefully know more then about when he surgery will be.  It will involve a colon resection to remove that section (and then some) where the cancer is.  It will not be laparoscopic. The CT scan Monday afternoon will reveal where else the cancer has gone if at all.  There may or may not be any chemo required, don’t know that yet either.  Typically, the surgery should involve at week or so in the hospital and at least a month at home, possibly more if I have anything to say about it.

I’m trying to be pragmatic about it all…gotta do what I gotta do right now.

I apologize if this sounds clinical, but I haven’t had time for much emotion regarding it all.  I’m sure I will.  I appreciate the concern from everyone.  I’m thinking, ‘It could be worse”, but I don’t have all the info yet.

Excuse me…could you repeat that…that was way too much information?

Had my colonoscopy yesterday.

Late yesterday after all that heavy duty sedation had worn off, I just wasn’t in much of a mood to elaborate on all of this.  Too much too soon.  Not the direction I had hoped this problem was going, etc. I’m still “digesting” it all (pardon the pun).

Today I don’t know much more than yesterday.  Those Asian docs may be good mechanics but they have horrible if non existent bed-side manners…personality of a bag of Soba noodles!  Went to school at the LeeKee Shipyard School of Medicine and Human Relations.

When the doc came in to do this thing I said, “Hey, is that your music playing?” (a small boom box was blaring everything from Guns n Roses, to Abba, to show tunes). I started to say,  “It’s pretty eclectic…”…(interrupting me), he said, “It looks like you had some bleeding last year.  That won’t show up now”.  I do remember coming out of the sedation with him saying he found a mass that is most likely colon cancer. The biopsy will confirm that in a week or so.  At least he mentioned that!  And then he was gone leaving the rest of the conversations to the nurses.

His scribbling on the procedure sheet looks like ‘diverticulosis, polyps removed, biopsies taken, labs ordered, CT scan ordered, CXR ordered, surgical consult entered (no need to fast for labs=can go anytime for tests ordered), hemorrhoids’.  A friendly male nurse transcribed all this shit and gave me a print out of it all from a computer program.  He then spoke to me a bit about what to expect including the colon resection, possible chemo, etc.  I have a call to return today from what sounded like the surgical referral.  I will go for the blood work at 8am, do a portrait photo in my garage studio at 10am, then a movie possibly after that.

Surgery will require about a month off from work, that’s the greatest news!  I’m sure I will drop a few more pounds that’s even better!  And, an awesome scar across my mid-section that will look great at the beach! In the meantime, back to work for a while I guess.

I will feel really stupid if I get a second opinion and they find that mass to be a pile of undigested ground beef.  Highly unlikely.

The best scenario:  I lose a short length of my lower intestine.  The worst:  Don’t want to think about it right now.

Thanks again for the concern,
Skip

PS At least the doctor spelled hemorrhoids right!