Tuesday, July 22, 2014

It Wasn't Supposed to End LIke This

July 20, or 21 (depending on where you live) was the 45th anniversary of mankind's first steps on the moon by astronaut Neil Armstrong- unless you are someone like my father's father, who went to his grave thinking it was a Hollywood fabrication.

Neil Armstrong dead some two years now, never lived to see this anniversary.   Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, waging a social media campaign.

My personal memories? That day, July 20, I went with my Dad to see a space exhibit in midtown Manhattan - and late that night, we watched Neil Armstrong take his step on a flickering black and white TV picture in our Bronx apartment.

Who would have expected the space program would end (in my mind, it's ended) the way it did?  With a whimper?

In July of 2011, I wrote this blog post, and I would like to repeat it today.

Fly Me to the Moon....

I interrupt the normal programming of this blog to bring you this special announcement.

The United States space program ended today.

Today has left a large hole in my heart.  And perhaps one in our country's heart.

I was a child of the Space Race.  In October of 1957, Sputnik 1 was launched.  Ever hear of it? Or the Soviet Union?  Well...

The Soviet Union was a "union" of Russia and a number of other nearby countries.  Their government was "communist", committed to the destruction of the capitalist system - and our country.  Or, so we were told.  Those were scary times.  When I was a toddler, being called a Communist could be enough to cause someone to lose their job.  There were special congressional hearings.  Blacklists.

The Soviets had "The Bomb".   We and they fought what was called the "Cold War".  If they won and took us over, all would be lost.  The Soviets were totally evil- that is what I was taught, as a schoolchild growing up in the 1950's and early 60's.

When the Soviets launched the first satellite in October of 1957, our country was thrown into a panic.  We needed to get our children educated in the sciences, and quickly, so we could get into space with our satellite before the Communists took space over.   This drive accelerated even more quickly when the Soviets put the first man into space in 1961.

We as a country committed ourselves to reach the moon in a speech given by President Kennedy in May of 1961. 

50 years ago, we decided to go to the moon.  We would beat the Soviets there.  We knew they were trying to get there, too.

Competition is the heart of the capitalist system.

I saw some of the various launches in school.  Others, on our black and white TV at home.  First, we blasted one man into sub-orbit.  Then, one man into orbit.  Then, into many orbits.

And then, the Soviets took a walk in space. So we had to also.

To make a long story short, we made it to the moon first.  Several more missions got to the moon and then in the 1970's we totally changed direction.  We decided to have a program with partially disposable space crafts.  We haven't been to the moon since that decision and, in fact, no one else has been, either.

In the middle of all this, the Soviet Union ceased to exist.  Probably a lot of the urgency disappeared with the Soviets.  We no longer had an enemy to compete with.

And then we realized it was way too expensive for the government to keep up the space program.  Private industry would have to take over, and that is part of the reason for what happened today.  The entire story is complicated, and this is a very shallow telling of the tale.

Today, several generations know of the space program mainly for Tang, and freeze dried ice cream.  But, in reality, it enriched our lives in so many ways we can't even imagine - everything from MRI technology to cell phones (have you ever seen the first Star Trek series?) to - well, there is an entire NASA Spinoff website that explains this.

Think about this.  We won the space race, right?  And now -we won't have a way to get into space on our own, for now.  We will have to depend on....

The Russians.

Now, that's irony.

We can ask  "so who cares?  Why is it important to keep exploring space?  (No, the answer isn't going to be to fight the space aliens traveling right now to our planet to conquer us....but who knows, maybe they are.)  No, the answer is not about being able to resist our future space overlords.  (Or...just think of this nightmarish thought - terrorists launch a satellite....)

It has a lot to do with the human spirit.  Humans are explorers.  The drive is built into us.  In every generation are born people without fear (or maybe, people without common sense).  The wider our horizons, the wider our thinking.  Our acceptance of new ideas, our flexibility, our ability to roll with change, depends on this. 

Will we lose our spirit?  If we do, our country is lost.

I fear this has already happened to our country, and we must fight it.

I rarely write serious blog posts, but this is one of them.

Be it by government, or be it by private industry, we can't give up space.

After posting this, I read an awesome post on the subject.  I am linking to it, so you can read it too.

What are your memories, if any, of the space program?

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Unsolved Mystery of the Cheesequake

Today's trivia question:  What is a Cheesequake?  I originally asked this question in 2010, after attending a wedding out of town.  I never found out.  So, four years later, I am hoping you, my blog readers, can help me.

Is a cheesequake
a.  What Wisconsin natives yell when the earth moves under their feet?
b.  A San Francisco boutique cheesecake (possibly now out of business) producer?
c.  A Washington State cheeseburger? or
d.  A New Jersey toll road service area?

If you answered "c", you've taken too many "How to Ace the SAT" review courses.

The correct answer, of course, is b, c and d.  And thereby hangs a tale.

b.  San Francisco Cheesequakes ("Cheesecakes that Rock") may have gone out of business since 2010.  But back then, their web site  had the most intriguing sounding cheesecakes.  (not that I've ever had one, so this is not a plug.)  Candycap Mushroom Cheesecake, anyone?

c.  How about a Double Cheesequake at the X Earthquakes Biggest Burgers in Pullyap, Washington?  (And, are they still in business?)

d.  The New Jersey Cheesequake.  There is my mystery.

In July of 2010, spouse and I traveled to the Jersey Shore from the Binghamton, NY area.  This involved travel on the Garden State Parkway, known as the country's busiest toll road.  We had been warned about the traffic and we already knew how aggressive and high speed the driving would be, so neither came as a shock.  We proceeded through The Oranges and The Amboys when to our wondering eyes did appear, near exit 120....

The Cheesequake Service Area.


Spouse and I turned to each other simultaneously.  What was a Cheesequake?  We pondered various answers.  A strange New Jersey restaurant chain?  A former cheese factory that had exploded and was now a historical site?  Some kind of corrupted Native American word?

Our wonder grew as we passed by a sign for Cheesequake State Park.

Turns out spouse's guess of a corrupted Native American word was correct.  My spouse, however, speculated that "Cheesequake" came from the same word that Chesapeake (as in Chesapeake Bay) derived from.  That apparently is not the case, according to what I was able to research back then.  If my sources are correct, Chesapeake comes from a Algonquian word meaning a village "at a big river" while Cheesequake comes from a Lenape word for "upland village".

Drawing from my (too long ago) college anthropology courses, I recalled that the Lenapes (formerly known as the Delaware) are part of a much larger Native American groupage called the Algonquians.  So, there may still be some truth to this speculation.

At any rate the word has nothing to do with neither cheese nor earthquakes.

Cheesequake State Park does sound fascinating.  It may even help for me to learn how it is pronounced.

The service area, apart from the full service (mandatory in NJ) gas it sold for 20 cents less a gallon than Binghamton gas when we left, was not at all distinguished. 

But still, it left us with a desire to go back and visit the park.  Four years later, it is still a dream, but we do want to vacation locally later this summer.  So...

For now - can anyone tell me how Cheesequake is pronounced?  And what the word means?

I know you, my valued readers, won't let me down.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Civil War Sunday - Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt, Police Commissioner of New York City.  Rancher. Cowboy. Conservationist.  Rough Rider. Person the Teddy Bear was named in honor of. Author. Assistant Secretary of the Navy. United States President, one of four to be on Mount Rushmore.  Winner of a Nobel Peace Prize.

And some of his greatness could have been related to his link to the United States Civil War.  Not bad, considering that Roosevelt was born in October, 1858.  In other words, he was two years old when the Civil War started.

Like many Americans, Roosevelt had links both to the Union and to the Confederacy.  Roosevelt's father, Theodore "Thee" Roosevelt, was an active supporter of the Union during the war.

Roosevelt's mother, on the other hand, was from Georgia, which seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy during the Civil War.   Roosevelt's mother, the former Martha Bulloch, came from a slave owning family.  It is said she was a model for the character Scarlett O'Hara in Margaret Mitchell's famous novel, Gone with the Wind. (Others say Scarlett O'Hara was based on Margaret Mitchell herself.  Perhaps we will never know. But it's fun to speculate.)

Two of her brothers fought in the Navy of the Confederate States of America. 

Her brother Irvine, Theodore Roosevelt's uncle, served on the CSS Alabama, sunk off the coast of France in what is known as the Battle of Cherbourg in June of 1864. (Yes, there was a United States Civil War naval battle fought off the coast of France.  It was a fascinating incident- I should have blogged about it. I wonder if my European blog readers learned about it in school, because I never did.)

Growing up, Roosevelt loved the water and all things nautical.  He read letters from his uncles, and must have imagined himself living their life of excitement and challenge.  You have to think these stories fired Roosevelt's imagination, and some of the adventures he had as an adult.

Theodore Roosevelt, eventually, became (in 1905) the first sitting President to visit the South since the 1865 end of the Civil War.

Today, you can visit Bulloch Hall and learn more about the ancestry of our 26th President.

Do you have links to both sides of the Civil War in your family ancestry?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sustainable Saturday - Hot Jazz and No Coffee

Was it only yesterday that the daffodils were blooming?
Now, sunflowers are blooming, bees are buzzing and hot weather threatens us next week in upstate New York
Finally, people are coming out to the Downtown Binghamton, New York Farmer's Market.  I still intend to write the email/letter I blogged about last week to our local state assemblywoman about some of my fears, and thoughts about possible ways the market could prosper.   For the first time this year, I felt energy at the market. 

The jazz was hot yesterday, as Energee Jazz entertained at the market (above, setting up).
Ayana D, the band's singer, drew office workers, retirees and local residents in with her renditions of "Summertime" and other favorites.

Summertime veggies are coming in.

At Fojo Beans (rightmost tent in the above picture) I hung out for a minute inhaling coffee as the owner ground some beans for a customer. 

And then, I noticed something interesting. 

Someone walked past me, commenting to her companion that she had gone into that tent looking for a cup of coffee, and they were not serving coffee. That is true - they sell ground beans and whole beans.  They do not brew coffee for sale.

No one else does, either.  I visited Tampa, Florida's farmers market in March of 2013, and someone there was doing a brisk business selling iced coffee.  Why not in Binghamton?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized this simple fact.

Some years ago, there was a local vendor who used to grill chicken spiedies (a local dish) and sell them to the market's lunch crowd.  But at the market right now, there is no one selling prepared food (if I don't count Full Quiver Farms and her breads and cookies - recommended, by the way.)  No coffee, despite the fact that there are at least two coffee houses in downtown Binghamton who could set up a booth.  There is no one offering lunches to go, yet there are restaurants throughout downtown Binghamton.  Not all office workers have time to eat a sit down lunch.

There are two breweries in downtown Binghamton, both of which are brewpubs - neither are present at the market, yet, if you go to the Ithaca market, an hour away, several wineries (a major New York industry, incidentally) are there sampling their wares. (We have a winery but it's not in Binghamton, so I am just trying to think local here.) There is no one selling "dinners to go" for downtown office workers to pick up and take home.

Something really seems strange.  I do not know if the issue is lack of interest, a Binghamton ordinance, or simply that no one wants to try new things out.  Or maybe they did do these things at one time and they didn't work.  But if it hasn't been tried for several years. I know that the demographics of Binghamton are changing, especially with more and more college students moving into downtown.

Maybe I am just not knowledgeable enough to know that something won't work.  Maybe I am just the person who needs to speak up and suggest something.  I have no vested interest.  I don't own a business.  I'm "just" an office worker.

"Just" someone that can make it happen.  If I don't try, it never will happen.

Let's see if I go through with it. You, my readers, will be the first to know.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Lifestyles of the Rich and Checkerboarded

Come with me to the small village of Aurora, New York.

Early in June, I visited a local upstate New York company called MacKenzie-Childs.  Their products are expensive (very expensive) but once a year they have a "barn sale" where you can buy items on sale.   I would only be able to afford most of their items if I won the lottery.

Many of the goods, true, are imported, but there are others that are at least partially produced on site.

But it doesn't cost anything to look at these luxury goods.  And it doesn't cost anything to dream. 

We didn't have time in June to visit the area where the artisans work.   That's a dream for another time.

People come from many miles on barn sale days to shop and to look at the gardens on the grounds.  I decided to be different and visit on a day when hardly anyone was there.

This is just one example of their ceramics.

A garden swing greets you.

If there are checkerboards, it must be MacKenzie-Childs.

You enter here into a wonderland showroom.

This is a sample of their outdoor garden..
This is where their geese live.

This is the house that checkerboards built.

The annual barn sale started yesterday.  I'd love to go back one day for the sale, but right now, I'll content myself with what I saw during my June visit.

And if my dreams came true, I would buy....ah, that's a post for another time.  Maybe even tomorrow.

Checkerboard love.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

My Cheesecake Secret

Want the secret to great cheesecake?

Doesn't this cheesecake look lovely?  It is made with local strawberries, picked last Saturday.

The crust is made with graham crackers and lemon Oreos.  The filling has hand squeezed lemon juice and lemon zest lovingly grated by my spouse.  And, there may be a secret ingredient in there, too.

Here's the story:

After making strawberry jam on Saturday, I decided I wanted to make a cheesecake.  I made that decision while picking up a couple of last minute groceries on Saturday.  I whipped out what spouse calls "the magic phone" (my iPhone 4S) to find a quick, low fat cheesecake recipe.

Now, please don't click away to another blog.  Please!  I fully realize that "cheesecake" and "low fat" should never appear in the same sentence.  Or, in the same cheesecake.  But, spouse and I both follow Weight Watchers, and we did need to make some concessions to maintaining our weight.

So, I found this recipe on Kraft's website.  It's called Philadelphia 3 Step Low Fat Berry Cheesecake.  Philadelphia? For my foreign readers, don't worry about it.

The key factors were
1.  Three steps, about as many as I can handle (those steps,  if my spouse isn't around, usually include "peel plastic back from frozen dinner. Then, microwave 5 minutes.  Let sit." )
2.  I had lots of strawberries - almost six pounds worth.
3.  I was so in the mood for cheesecake.

It was time to make all kinds of unknown substitutions creatively tweak the recipe to keep the calorie count this side of where we could still eat it.

Have you ever tried fat free cream cheese and eaten it again?  Me, neither.  I bought neufchatel cheese instead.  I decided, instead of three eggs, to use one egg and two egg whites.  And the crust?  2 graham crackers for a 9 inch pie pan?  Seriously?  Why bother with crust at all?  I decided to use a little less sugar.  I kept the vanilla extract - cheesecake must have vanilla.  There was also the lemon juice and the zest, which I will cover later.

I quickly turned to some lemon Oreos I had bought for the office to pad out the crust.  The person of honor, who loves lemon everything, had decided she didn't like lemon Oreos after all, sticking me with about half the contents.  They were getting soft, as Oreos will if they are open for more than 30 minutes.  (OK, fess up, who keeps Oreos around for more than 30 minutes?). Just perfect for a crust.  I also decided to add more graham crackers.  This was a crust, after all.

Cookies went into the blender.  Results (no butter or other fat) went into a metal pie pan, already prepared with organic canola oil.  And then, into a large bowl, I dropped three packages of softened neufchatel cheese. American neufchatel cheese, that is, which is like a lower fat (but still plenty of fat) cream cheese.

Well, if you are waiting for one of those food posts where the author lovingly takes a picture of each step, this isn't going to be that post.

Things had gotten just a wee major-league cluttered in the kitchen between the jam making, the cheesecake and my spouse's attempts to prepare dinner.  I had to move my baking efforts to the top of our chest freezer, where my spouse, preparing to BBQ some fish, had laid out the fish, and his grilling marinade, which he had poured into a small, glass bowl.  His marinade consisted of lime juice, chopped garlic, and some sesame oil.  Next to that bowl he placed the plate of fish, and some scallops.

Spouse squeezed the lemon juice and grated me some zest.  He combined them into a...yes, you've guessed it.  Another small, glass bowl.  And they were both on the freezer top.

So when I got to the next step of my cheesecake, in went the...

...garlic marinade.

I immediately (why is it always after you do something wrong?) realized my error and gave out a cry.  "My cheesecake is ruined!", I wailed.

At the risk of insuring no one will ever visit my house again for dinner (or anything else), my spouse came over, surveyed the damage, and shrugged.  "We can rescue it", he said. "And the lime won't hurt.  Neither will the oil" I hadn't beaten the cheese yet, so the blocks were still intact. Most of the liquid had gathered under the bottom block, which was supported by the bowl in the way that the marinade and the cheese weren't really touching.  Ok, a little, and there was some garlic on top of the neufchatel mound.

So spouse, oh so delicately, poured off the marinade, while I picked out the garlic, hoping that I was getting every little piece. "Don't worry", spouse said.  "Remember when we ate that garlic ice cream at a local garlic festival?  Wasn't it good?"  (Yes, we are still married.)  "And, the lime will just make it taste better."

So, prepared for the worst, I beat the cheese, added the lemon juice/zest, the sugar, the vanilla extract and then the eggs.  Baked, cooled, chilled, added the strawberries mixed in with some of the low sugar jam I made the same day.

I think I detected one piece of garlic so far. But we are eating small pieces of the cheesecake, so we may run across some more.

So, that's the secret to a good cheesecake.  Garlic marinade.  Only kidding - I think!And it was pretty good.  I think it's a bit dense - maybe next time I would add some no fat greek style yogurt.  Or, another egg white.

Have you ever had a kitchen mishap?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Summer Ramblings - Pink Skies at Dusk

We've had some stormy weather this past week in upstate New York.  In the last week, according to the National Weather Service, we've had eight confirmed tornadoes.  One, tragically, resulted in four deaths.

But there is something else a storm can result in, if you aren't in the midst.  Great photo opportunities.
Taken by my son near Maine, New York, July 14.
Westover, near Johnson City, NY 7-13-14
The day before, a storm hit us with heavy rains but the heavy winds predicted missed us.  And after the storm is over , we got a pink sunset.  This sky reminds me of the sky in an old Venus Paradise coloring set. (Remember them?)
As the sunset progressed, the sky got pinker.

Colors in my flower garden just glowed.
Hostas tinted pink.
These flowers are almost white.  Even the ground (brown mulch) was glowing in the pink sunset.

Yes, the weather can have beauty, even as it can turn deadly in an instant.

Do you have a weather story to tell?