Say Cheese!

A Delicious Looking Piece of Stilton Cheese

Early in my adult life, I became a cheese-o-holic—particularly at breakfast time. I loved having hot Indian black tea with a couple cubic inches of cheese with crackers or bread.

Lately, I have taken to making my own Mexican quesadillas for breakfast using La Banderita soft flour tortillas, Monterey Jack cheese, and sliced pickled Jalapeños.

I usually have on hand Monterey Jack, Extra Sharp Cheddar, Parmesan, and a blue cheese, usually English Stilton. What I never eat is what is euphemistically called American Cheese or any similarly overprocessed “cheese food.”

Also excellent are sheep and goat cheeses. I remember visiting a wine and cheese shop in Amboise, France, that was built into the foot of the rock on which the Château d’Amboise was built. I must have tried a dozen varieties of goat cheese with local Loire wines. I was in hog heaven. I feel similarly about good quality feta cheese, especially in Greek dishes.

Once I open a packet of cheese, I always repackage it first in wax paper and then aluminum foil. It seems to last longer that way.

In terms of health, there are different points of view about cheese—as is true of almost any kind of food or drink. Despite the high sodium and fat content of cheese, my blood pressure and cholesterol are well under control. Consequently, I plan on continuing to enjoy cheese as long as I can.

America Subterranean

This Is a Book That Got Me Thinking

I have just finished reading a book recommended to me by my friend Suzanne: Tara Westover’s Educated. Ever since 2016, I have been pondering what it is about the United States of America that gives rise to all these anti-governmental splinter groups that are directly or indirectly associated with Trump’s base.

Tara is an attractive young woman who was raised in a small town in Franklin County, Idaho, of a Mormon survivalist parents. Her father ran a junkyard; and her mother, starting out as a midwife, became a producer of essential oils called Butterfly Express. What the author describes is almost an archetypal experience of a religiously conservative familial craziness:

  • The father is a staunch survivalist who collects guns, including one that could shoot down helicopters such as those involved in Ruby Ridge.
  • Insists that all the children be home-schooled and work in the family junkyard and essential oil business.
  • Doctors and hospitals were to be avoided. Instead, Mrs Westover effected all cures using natural remedies.
  • There was an emphasis on the Old Testament (and, in Tara’s case, The Book of Mormon).
  • Women were expected to dress modestly lest they be considered sluts.
  • There was no involvement with government. Tara did not get her birth certificate until she was nine. (She was born at home.)
  • The males in the family tend to be bullies that enforce compliance with their fringe beliefs.

Tara Was Not Only Smart, But Tough As Nails

Somehow, Tara showed that she had the brains despite her desultory home schooling to get into Brigham Young University, and then Cambridge University in England and Harvard, where she got her PhD.

I don’t normally read best sellers, but Educated was an exception that was definitely worth reading. There was something about her upbringing which was truly horrifying, such as the repeated life-threatening auto and junkyard accidents that had to be dealt with using only the mother’s natural remedies. Today, Tara Westover is no longer in touch with her parents. She, for one, managed to escape.


An Encounter in the Desert

Acoma Sky City

It was our third day in Albuquerque. Martine and I were visiting the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. While Martine wandered around looking at the exhibits, I stopped in front of a table covered with dozens of pieces of pottery that caught my eye. The artist was an Acoma Indian named Larry.

Now I had visited Acoma twice, and Martine, once. The Sky City pueblo shared with Old Oraibi on Third Mesa on the Hopi Reservation the distinction of being the two oldest continuously inhabited towns in North America. It sits atop a mesa closed to all but reservation traffic. One must take a bus from the Sky City Cultural Center and Ha’aku Museum to get to the top. Then, after taking the tour, one can take the bus back down or walk down a relatively easy trail.

I told Larry that we planned to visit Sky City in about a week or so, and that we had seen it before. I saw a pottery seed container bearing an image of a horned toad. Even though it was not cheap, I bought it because it was elegant. I explained to Larry that I liked to collect turtles and frogs because I, too, lived in the desert (9 inches of rain in a typical year); and turtles and frogs made me think of rain.

Horned Toad

This caught Larry’s attention. He recommended that when we next visited Sky City a week hence, we try to get a guide named Turtle.

As it turned out, Martine and I could not visit Sky City that next week: It was closed for a tribal religious ceremony. We were staying at the Sky City Casino on the Acoma Reservation, where I became ill. Martine had to drive me to the Indian Health Service clinic on the reservation, where I was fitted up with an IV with Solu-Cortef added. I got well quickly, as I wrote earlier.

Although we did not get to see Sky City during that trip, I felt in a strange way that I received a blessing of sorts while we stayed at the Casino. I even won a small amount of money.


The Dumpster Fire Spreads

There’s a Lot of GOP Hotfoots in Washington Today

The Trumpf Administration (it’s actually funny to think of it as an “Administration”—more like a dumpster fire that just got out of control) is so ridiculously beleaguered that it’s almost funny. Except that it’s happening to each and every one of us. We escaped having a health program that would have demised several million Americans rather unceremoniously.

But there will be other chances, what with the other pending items on the GOP agenda. After today, though, I can’t see ol’ Turtleface McConnell smiling with any degree of sincerity.

And, as more Trumpf insiders become outsiders, I can see more embarrassing stories bedeviling the man from Mar-a-Lago. Such as the time the Presidente called in Reince Priebus to the Oval Office for the sole purpose of killing a fly.

It Started Small but Grew to Engulf a Whole Nation

It looks now as if Trumpf has enemies in both major political parties. Do you suppose that eventually, someone will develop the spine to remove this chucklehead from office?

In the Rough

If You Don’t Have the Right Values, Victory Will Always Slip Between Your Fingers

Sometimes, the worst thing that can happen to one is to be victorious—especially when one is a dishonest real estate promoter who has a record of fraud and lying. I was amused to find that Trumpf (pronounce it with a distinctive razzberry sound at the end) is already raising money for his re-election. Of course, he will find deluded people who will donate to his re-election campaign. Add to that the possibility that he will win again.

Even if he wins, happiness will elude him, as it always eludes people like him whose values are specious. For whatever reason, his wife refuses to live with him. (She knows.) Our presidente divides the world into “winners” and “losers”: By definition, he is with the former. If I would have to be like him to be classified with the winners, I would just as soon be a loser, thank you.

I don’t quote the Bible often, but I have always been intrigued by Ecclesiastes 9:11, which the King James text translates as:

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Don’t worry too much about Trumpf’s re-election. He looks dissipated and unhealthy, living on a diet of fast food that could not be good for him. There is a decent chance that this ultimate winner will soon be fighting for his life.


More Personal History

Fairview General Hospital in Fairview Park, Ohio

Fairview General Hospital in Fairview Park, Ohio

This is a reposting from I blog I wrote several years ago on Multiply.Com. Several people who have read yesterday’s posting asked me about my unusual medical history. So I hope you don’t mind an occasional repeat. A few changes have been made to reflect the present reality:

The story of my life would be incomplete without a description of the physical pain that wracked me from approximately the age of ten until just five years ago. It all started with the headaches: They were centered at a spot about an inch or so above the imaginary line between my eyes.  And they were incredibly severe. Fortunately, I did not have them every day. At first, it was only two or three times a week.

What does one know about pain when one is young? I knew that the headaches were bad, but was afraid of making them out worse than they were. My parents took me to doctors, but they thought I had migraines or hay fever or that I was just basically shamming. My mother would boil a large pot of water, add salt, and have me bend over it with a towel over my head so that the vapor would relieve the pain. Sometimes it seemed to work.

Time went on: I graduated from high school and went on to college, where it got worse. In the summer after I graduated, I saw the best ophthalmologist in Cleveland because of some surprising lateral visual disturbances I was beginning to have. When I saw a stop sign, sometimes it looked as if it were saying stp; other times, it looked like stoooooop. This doctor said I had a “lazy eye” and prescribed eye exercises. (No one who reads has much as I do can be said to have a “lazy eye.”)

Days before I was to leave by train to Los Angeles to begin graduate school at UCLA, it all came to a head, so to speak. I had just prepared a lunch for myself (my parents work at work) of a hot dog with catsup and a can of creamed corn. (For years after, I was unable to eat any of these foods; and I still can’t face catsup.) Suddenly, all the demons in hell were inside my head jabbing with pitchforks. I collapsed in bed, and then it got worse. Over a period of an hour, I managed to drag myself to a telephone—blacking out several times in the process—and, after several wrong numbers, got my mother at work. She heard the panic in my voice, but I didn’t care because I had collapsed.

The next thing I remember, I was in the emergency ward at Fairview General Hospital in Fairview Park, Ohio [now part of the prestigious Cleveland Clinic] . A doctor was asking me questions, but I was too groggy to give articulate answers. Another blackout. Then, a coma. My temperature shot up dangerously high, and my body was cooled by bags of ice . In 1966, there were no CAT scans, no MRIs—only X-Rays. No one had a clue what was wrong with me, and my family was prepared for the worst. I received the last sacraments of the Catholic Church when—quite suddenly and inexplicably—I awoke.

At times in my life, I have had incredible luck. One of the most incredible strokes of luck was that my family physician was an endocrinologist, Doctor Michael Eymontt. While I was out, he had deduced from sketchy evidence that I had a chromophobe adenoma, or pituitary tumor. It made sense: I was 21 years old, but looked as if I were only 11. I had practically no body hair and had not yet reached the age of puberty. The doctors told me I had a cyst in my pituitary which had to be operated on within a few days. If they had said tumor, which would have been the truth, my family would have been more alarmed. One day, the neurosurgeon, Dr. William Hegarty, walked into my room, introduced himself, and said, “Tomorrow, we’ll be peeking into your pituitary.”

They did more than peek. The pituitary gland is located midway between the ears, ensconced on all sides by brain, except from the bottom. In those primitive days of the 1960s, they had to go through my brain. The chances of death, paralysis, blindness, and a whole host of evils stood near 100%.  Nowadays, this surgery is fairly routine. The surgeons go up from the roof of the mouth, or even through the nasal cavity. But in that era, it was tantamount to a death warrant.

Three hours after the surgery, as I lay in bed in the intensive care unit with my mother and father standing by my side, I suddenly sat up with all the tubes tied to me and said, “The operation was a success. Could I have some bacon?”  It had been a success. Little by little, the doctors and nurses imparted to me the medications I must now take for the rest of my life, the dangers I had been through, and the possible dangers to come. But I had survived. When, eighteen days later, my father drove me home, I marveled at the people walking down the street and thought, “O brave new world!” All of creation was suffused with a glow, even the run-down brick homes of West Side Cleveland looked to me like gleaming palaces.

The feeling was not to last. It turns out that I was allergic to dilantin, an anticonvulsive drug that I was taking that attacked all my joints simultaneously and made it impossible for me to move without screaming in pain. They switched me to phenobarbitol instead, and the pain finally went away.

I was alive! [And still am!]

So You Think It’s Good for You?



Unfortunately, we Americans tend to pay far too much attention to the news media, not only when it comes to straight news, but also feature stories about food and health. We’ve all seen the stories: Avoid ill health by drinking sugarless sodas, followed by how artificial sweeteners are worse for you than sugar. For decades, articles are trumpeted the benefits of protein from soybeans. Now there are an equal number of articles blaming soy for feminizing men by giving them man-boobs.

The number of news villains in our diet have included eggs, fats, tomatoes (long ago thought to be poisonous), cheeses, and smoked meats. I am reminded of the scene in Woody Allen’s film Sleeper (1973) in which two doctors are discussing Miles Monroe (played by Woody):

Dr. Melik: This morning for breakfast he requested something called “wheat germ, organic honey and tiger’s milk.”

Dr. Aragon: [chuckling] Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.

Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or… hot fudge?

Dr. Aragon: Those were thought to be unhealthy… precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.

Dr. Melik: Incredible.

Maybe deep fat, steak, cream pies, and hot fudge are bad for you, but I have my suspicions about wheat germ, organic honey, and tiger’s milk—which may be no better.

I have come to the conclusion that the best thing to do is to not get into a food rut. A bad food rut can include salads just as much as it could include cheeseburgers and fries. Eat meat. Eat eggs. Eat fruit. Eat vegetables. But know this: There are no magic foods that will cure what ails you. That is pure snake oil.