I was watching old Conan clips today and for some reason, the one at the end of this post made me think of a memory from my time in Ecuador. I was a school teacher for 2 school years, which means you see foreign teachers come and go during that time. Many work on 2-3 year contract. During my second year a newer teacher told me they heard about me during their recruitment interview.
A lot of times there are international teaching recruitment fairs where teachers meet with with representatives from international private schools. My school had been to one to meet some teachers during my first year.
“Oh really? What’d they say?” I asked.
“It’s funny, they said you’re the elementary teacher that talks to students like they are adults.”
“What? Really? Seriously?”
“Totally and I just saw you do that, which made me think of it. I hadn’t remembered it until now.”
I always liked the fact that was my reputation and I thought it was funny that behavior stood out to the school administration. It was a totally unintentional approach to working with kids, but I never really saw the point in talking down to them. I’m not a teacher these days, so it’s probably not a long term strategy for success as a school teacher.
Any ways, I thought about it today when I saw Conan jamming with these kids for a bit.
I made a savory roll this week and Sam enjoyed it enough he suggest I write the recipe down for the future. I named it coquille de pain dukkah. Why? Because baked goods always sound nicer when said in french. I decided to make this recipe to use up a spice blend I bought in Amman, Jordan over a year ago. The spice blend is called dukkah or duqqa. The internet says it’s Egyptian. I used this cinnamon roll recipe as the inspiration.
260 g of all purpose whole wheat flour.
130 g of corn flour
2 tsp of salt
180 grams of milk
1 tsp sugar
57 g of butter
1 tsp of year
1/2 cup of of dukkah made into a paste with a little olive oil
1 Tbsp of cornmeal
Make the dough
Into a bowl add the yeast and sugar to the slightly above room temperature milk. Let it sit for 10 minutes in order to awaken the yeast. Afterward, add the softened butter, salt and egg and mix together.
Combine the flours and cornmeal and add this dry mixture to your wet ingredients. Mix together to form a shaggy mass of dough.
Knead the dough until it forms a smooth dough. Maybe 5 or 6 minutes. The dough will feel sticky, but just keep kneading.
Shape the dough it into a ball let the dough rest on the counter for a few minutes minutes.
Fill the bread
Roll the dough into a 18 x 15-inch rectangle; about a 1/4 inch thick.
Spread your duqqa paste across the dough. Please do not add too much oil. Once I had a layer across the dough I shredded manchego cheese lightly on top of the duqqa mixture.
Roll the dough into a cylinder and please do not to roll it tightly. It should be snug, but not tight.
Slice the cylinder of dough into 12 portions. I used a serrated knife.
Transfer to a greased baking pan.
Proof the Rolls
Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and allow the rolls to rise for about 50 to 60 minutes.
Before baking add a touch of finishing salt to the top of each roll and then bake them @ 350 F for 22-25 minutes.
I’ve enjoyed these rolls this week with a little bit of butter, cheese, or even harissa. It’s a nice small, yet hearty, lunch.
We decided to take a summer road trip since we have missed all of the trips we’d planned for 2020. COVID-19 has everyone’s ability to travel and visit others completely unpredictable, so I thought I would take the opportunity when I could. We put the bikes on our car, said goodbye to our cat, and hit the road.
We stopped in the town of Harpers Ferry for lunch and a little bit of exploring. We found a parking space on the street near Hamilton’s Tavern, so we decided to get lunch there. I thought it was expensive and not terribly impressive. $10 for 3 deviled eggs halves felt like actual robbery. I would skip it.
I did find a plaque dedicated to John Brown and the other warriors who set out to start a revolution to free slaves in America. It was above a trash can and covered by a bush. A real-world metaphor about how we understand slavery and those who rose against it: out of sight and mind unless you are looking for it.
We left Harpers Ferry to make our way to Wheeling to spend the night. The drive was beautiful. I have no idea where it was, but we stopped at a rest stop on the Maryland-Pennsylvania border and enjoyed a glorious view of the Cumberland Gap.
When we were driving through Harpers Ferry, we spotted a barbecue joint and drove past it. We regretted missing it after the mediocre lunch in town. On our way to Wheeling, WV, we spotted The Stone House Restaurant in Farmington, PA. This place had a big barbecue set up with lots of outdoor seating, so we thought we’d try it out.
We parked, got out of the car, and quickly realized only one other person was wearing a mask in an outdoor restaurant of 35 people. We should have got back in the car but thought that we would be safe at a picnic table away from everyone.
Neither of us was very hungry, so we thought that we’d split their famous hog fries. A mess of french fries with barbecue pork and cheese. We approached the counter and this exchange happened:
Me: Order of the hog fries.
Stone House barbecue guy: You’re going to have to speak up. I can’t hear you with that GODDAMN mask! (Loud, assertive, and clearly trying to make a point, but cowardly enough to not make eye contact)
Me: (Very loud & trying for eye contact) 1 hog fry, 1 Coors light, and 1 grapefruit white claw.
Stone House barbecue guy: (eyes on register) That it?
Me: Absolutely nothing else.
This was our first confrontation with someone who was hostile about mask-wearing. My sister told me to expect that when I got to Ohio, but I was shocked by the “goddamn mask.” I don’t love wearing it, but it is not that big of an inconvenience.
Review: The barbecue was good, if not a touch too sweet for me. The cheese was melted wiz and was gross. A handful of shredded cheddar that the meat could melt would be better. I have no memory of the fries. No need to get this dish, it’s merely a gimmick. I’d pass this place.
The Palace of Gold
One of these things I wanted to see on our trip to Ohio was the Palace of Gold in New Vrindaban, West Virginia, near Moundsville. New Vrindaban is a Hare Krishna community in West Virginia, founded in 1968. Kirtanananda Swami started it and turned it into a cult. He seems like a pretty bad guy from my limited research. The podcast American Scandal has an 8 episode series that covers a lot of this story. Either way, the community is on the mend and trying to return to its glory days.
Visiting the Palace of Gold is weird in the best possible way. You drive through a West Virginia holler to find a Hindu temple on top of a hill. I was personally thinking, “How in the fuck did this happen?” Aesthetically, it does not seem out place. The entire complex lends itself to lush greenery and rural stillness. I was confused, curious, and a bit in awe of the whole scene. There is a vegetarian restaurant on the premise. We each had samosa, and Sam ordered a mango lassi that cloyingly sweet.
On our walk to the palace, we met a woman from NYC. She had come to New Vrindaban for the summer. She suggested we check out the rose garden. Once we got to the temple, we could not take a tour of it that day. We explored the grounds and took the advice to explore the rose garden. It’s lovely.
When we entered the palace, we met to 2 white working-class men repairing part of the palace listening to the scripture from the Bhagavad Gita while they painted. They were not in robes or anything like that, just standard work gear. Here lies a second scene that my brain struggled to compute. New Vrindaban pushed me a lot to consider my assumptions and expectations versus reality. I appreciated it.
After the temple, we made our way to northwest Ohio to visit my family. My parents’ quarantine project was to clean out their big two-story farmhouse. It’s incredible how much they cleared out. My things are reduced to cargo trunk at the foot of a bed.
One day, Sam and I did a 25-mile bike ride from my parents’ house to my sister’s house. It was a smooth ride, but it got boring after 15 miles. It was one long country road that I’ve driven countless times in the past. I was surprised to notice patches of trees, river access points, or the genuine tranquility of the waving fields that I hadn’t before. There was a meditative quality to the entire ride, but the monotony of seeing a cornfield, a soybean field, and another cornfield started to wear on me after a while, so I was happy to be finished with it.
We ordered dinner from a fantastic taco place in Bryan called Taco’s Nacho’s (Yes, I know they missed great names like Nacho Taco or Not Yo Taco.) They are delicious authentic Mexican tacos. The lengua tacos with onion, cilantro, and their hot sauce are great. If you are in Bryan, Ohio, I highly recommend grabbing some food from this restaurant.
One day we stopped by a few farmers’ markets. I wanted to hit up a stand called Garden Thyme that makes homemade mustard and jams. I think they are outstanding, and I grabbed a couple of different mustards to take home. I also spotted a book stand. A local historian named Jim Mollenkopf was selling books he’d written about the Great Black Swamp. When I flipped through one of the books, I spotted the story of Laura Smith Haviland, an abolitionist who has a statue honoring her in Adrian, MI. These are the civil war era people that should be getting statues.
We also stopped by the Bryan Farmers’ market, but the lack of masks was a real turn off. We had planned to stop into Kora Brew House to fill a few growlers, but no one was wearing a mask. We decided it wasn’t worth the risk and headed home. On the way, we saw a group of 3 or 4 locals with signs on the corner taking action in support of the Movement for Black Lives. It was excellent seeing activists in a town that is 94% white, in which 58% of locals voted for Trump in 2016, standing in public, making it known that black lives matter.
One bit of fun I had while I was visiting was magnet fishing. Well, I thought it was going to be a lot more fun than it was. I’ve watched a ton of videos on youtube showing off people who wish creeks and ponds for metal objects using a magnet. I bought a magnet and rope and sent it to Ohio. I fished all over Holly & Spencer’s lake and only picked up a fishhook. Magnet fishing fail. Spencer soother my disappointment with a great whiskey called Eagle Rare, and we got to see others we know in the area.
We had a fun time while we were in Ohio. We spent a lot of time swimming and relaxing. Samer had us sleeping in the 40+ foot camper my parents own instead of my room, which was actually very comfortable.
Whenever we visit northwest, we try to stop in Dearborn, MI. This is the center for Arab immigrants in the United States. We ate at Malek Al-Kabob for lunch. They had a great outdoor space where we could eat while feeling safe. We were distanced from others, and the waitress wore a face shield. This was the best meal I had on the trip. We ordered a kabob sampler with a bunch of different grilled food on abed of rice. It was spiced well, charred, and really delicious. This place gets a huge recommendation from me. I loved it. Of course, we ended with a trip to Shatila Bakery for kanafeh, seven boxes of baklava, and a 24 spinach and cheese pies for later.
I am glad we took this trip to see my family. It was an excellent way to see people, be safe, and have a change of scenery. We did not meander on our way home and just did the 9-hour drive straight through. This trip showed us why the USA is failing in response to COVID-19. People are not just anti-mask; they are still asking if the disease is real. It’s sad and frustrating. With no national leadership, coordinated approach, or collective agreement on what needs to be don, the virus will continue to rage on, and we’ll all see each other much less.
On Friday, I went to a Black Lives Matter action in center city Philadelphia. I found it on sixnineteen.org. Maurice Mitchell spoke at a staff meeting and suggested to check out that site. That guy is brilliant and has an analysis of our current moment that is incredibly compelling. Follow him and read what he has to say.
I’ve been hesitant about attending any demonstrations, because of COVID-19. I was relieved to find out that almost everyone was masked, and people were really trying to social distance. I’ve been to a lot of actions over the years, but I have to give use props to the organizers of this one.
We stopped traffic at 15th, and JFK Boulevard and the organizers asked us to lay on our stomachs with our arms behind our back. They told us we would be there for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, and if we thought it would be uncomfortable, they said it would “but not as uncomfortable as having someone kneel on your neck during it.” Photo #14 of this gallery shows you what we were doing.
Everyone (including myself) laid on the ground in silence. At the corresponding times, the organizers would quote George Floyd in a bullhorn. It was incredibly powerful. Lying on hot filthy pavement with nothing but my own mind, hearing “Momma!” and “Momma! I’m through,” brought tears to my eyes.
We stood up and marched on to the art museum. While one of the organizers was speaking, he said, “Remember, this movement is about love. Let’s take a minute and turn to the person next to you and tell them you love them. Now turn to the person on your other side and tell them you love them.” It was sweet, earnest, and genuine. I’ve not been to many labor actions where we told our neighbors that we loved them.
I didn’t learn about Juneteenth until I was in my 20s, and the first time I celebrated it was 2013, I happen to be in DC for work, and my office was hosting a Juneteenth chili cook-off. I remember thinking, “is this a DC thing?” I didn’t know anyone in Philadelphia that celebrated it. I am so happy this holiday is becoming something that more people know about. Hopefully, white people use that day to carry some burden in the fight for racial justice so others can take a moment to celebrate emancipation.
Last weekend we decided to leave the city and head to a cabin in northeastern PA on Paupackan Lake. It was my birthday, I had been locked away at home since March, and Philly’s protests were leading to a lot of stress. Recently I’ve been worried about the interplay between the movement for Black Lives and the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t want the uprising to stop and I am worried about everyone in the streets becoming infected with the virus.
A Victoria sponge.
Samer made a very classic Victoria sponge cake with homemade strawberry jam from Lebanon. We ate some for breakfast and then made our way out of the city. I wanted to try some road food on the way, so I remembered hearing about a famous hot dog place in Allentown. My friend Dennis told me to skip it and make our way over to Easton and try Jimmy’s Hot Dogs. It’s a cash-only place in a strip small, and I thought it was great. It’s pretty simple, you get a good hot dog on a bun with mustard and a full pickle spear. I skipped the onions. That’s the entire thing. If you like a good hot dog and are in Easton, PA, you should check it out. I had 2! The (very) big dude behind us in line ordered 9. Sam is sure that he ordered for a family. I’m skeptical.
On our way to the cabin at 111 West Shore Drive, I typed in the wrong address. I typed in something like 11 North Shore Drive. We pulled in to a driveway that did not look like the picturesque cabin that we saw on Airbnb. It was more of a bayou setting. Trailers very close to the water, lots of trucks, and at least 2 dudes with rat tails and or mullets. Pulling up, I was a little nervous about how a gay couple in a Mini Cooper was going to be received. We couldn’t get reception, and I was a bit of a nervous wreck. A toned-down, Joe Exotic stopped to ask us if we needed anything, but we said we were figuring it out. Moments later, a cop pulled up behind us. I was convinced these dudes had called the police on us. Samer assured me that the police in this area were not that efficient, but I wanted to bounce as soon as possible. All I kept thinking was that we stumbled onto a meth operation, and this small-town police is running a protection racket. Admittedly, my imagination probably got away from me.
Wrong Location -> Correct Location
We drove until we got cellular reception and then realized we were 20 minutes away from Paupackan Lake. We made our way over and were so happy when we arrived. I was not working that day, but my lead for the last few years retired that day, and I was one of the emcees for his Zoom retirement party. The cabin had terrible reception, so we drove up to the volunteer fire department parking lot where we could find LTE with 3 bars. We celebrated Dave and I made a few jokes. It was a tough week to do any joke writing, so I think it was my B-game. Certainly not my A-game. Also, being funny on Zoom is brutal. There is absolutely no feedback. I really feel for every comedian trying to make it work right now. That being said, all reports said he enjoyed it.
Sunset on Paupackan Lake
Ok, back to my birthday weekend. On Friday night, we split a bottle of wine and watched the sunset from the dock. It was very peaceful and felt a million miles away from the chaos of the quarantine or the intensity of the anti-racist uprising happenings. We made cod, garlic scapes, and a tomato and mozzarella salad for dinner. It was so delicious. Falling asleep was delightfully comfortable and quiet. There were no explosions from fireworks, psy-ops, or ATMs blowing up. There were no lights from all of the city’s light pollution and my phone was on airplane mode in my bag.
On Saturday, Sam continued the birthday celebration by making me biscuits & gravy. This is my favorite dish from Ohio that does not exist in the east. I could pass on most Midwestern recipes, but this south to the midwest breakfast is so goddamn good. I love sausage gravy. How could you not, but the truth is, this best biscuits & gravy I’ve ever had was at the Portland, OR farmers market in 2009, and it was made with brown mushroom gravy. It was delicious. Sam decided to make a mushroom gravy. It was terrific and as good as sausage gravy. While he cooked, I meditated on the dock and was lucky enough to see a bald eagle skimming the lake’s surface.
The dock of our cabin.
We kayaked around the lake for about 2 hours after breakfast. There is a lot of marshland that you can skirt and see birds on Paupackan. On our way home, the wind picked up, and the paddle back was much more tiring than when we started. We spent the rest of the afternoon, napping and reading. Samer escaped to the hammock, and I really got into my book. I’m reading The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. I am not a fantasy genre lover, but I am enjoying it.
A little dragonfly
For dinner, Samer made the best pork chop I’ve ever had. He made a sauce from red wine, apple butter, and apple cider vinegar. We paired it with a Cabernet Sauvignon and finished the birthday cake. It was a fantastic meal.
Waking up on Sunday meant that the weekend had already passed. Ugh, I loved the cabin. It’s difficult to describe how loved nature, the lack of connectivity, and the simplicity of everything. We decided to check out Lake Wallenpaupack before we left. That’s a vast and famous lake in the area.
We stopped by one marina and decided to check out the Lacawac Sanctuary on our way home, but on the drive, our tire went flat. We have drive-flat tires, so we limped to a gas station about 5 miles away only to discover our entire tire had completely blown out and was destroyed. We don’t know what happened. Maybe it was a little low, and the road’s curve hit it just right, but there was no saving it. I walked to the Advanced Auto Parts, where they told me the only tire guy open on a Sunday was M&J Tires. We drove another 8 miles on a flat and started getting nervous as we left the main road to see more Trump-Pence signs. If this guy didn’t have a tire, where in the hell were we stranded?
We pulled up to the tire shop and were met by 2 monster trucks flanking the entrance. No one came to meet us. I surmised the one person not fidgeting with a tire may be the customer in front of me. I asked her who was in charge and she pointed me to a guy named Mike in the back of the shop. He was not much for chatting and told me he’d be with me in 5 minutes. To an outsider, this scene may be overwhelming, but my life in rural Ohio prepared me for this. A big shop, lots of tires inside, outside, outback, on their sides, in racks, etc. and a dude who is not good with small talk or business formalities. I’ve got this.
At this point, we realized our cell phones were not getting any signal. Our Mini Cooper has a weird tire size, and my guess was that neither foreign cars nor gay couples with at least one foreign-born member frequented the shop. When Mike asked me about the car, I was frank, “I don’t know, man. I just drive it.” I knew I was setting myself up to get ripped off, but I was 130 miles from home.
Mike is a totally nice guy. He replaced my tire in a few minutes and then only charged me $45 for a new tire. I tipped well, and we made our way home.
I had a wonderful birthday, and it was so great to take the weekend to leave town. We maintained social distancing, enjoyed some nature, and utterly unplugged. I loved it, I appreciated it, and want to go back very soon.