Creamed Spinach and Oven-Dried Tomato Mac & Cheese

It occurred to me after perfecting my recipe for Indian Saag that ordinary creamed spinach would probably be easy in comparison. Why would I need regular creamed spinach if I were enjoying my saag? Well, certain folks and certain occasions in my life call for non-Indian food. I can’t exactly bring Indian Saag to Thanksgiving dinner, and most of my family members are afraid of Indian food, so a recipe for creamed spinach comes in handy. After trying a few versions that I found relatively bland, I did punch this recipe up with a few spices, but only enough to give it a hint of flavor:

Creamed Spinach & Oven-dried Tomato Mac & CheeseSARAH’S CREAMED SPINACH

1 onion (5 oz. diced frozen)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons butter
1 (1 lb.) bag of frozen spinach
1/2 (1 lb.) bag of frozen broccoli
1 cup heavy cream or sour cream
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1-2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 (8 oz) package of cream cheese
5 oz shredded white cheese, e.g. Parmesan, Mozzarella, Romano, etc.
salt, pepper, or cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)

Melt butter in a medium to large saucepan. Saute garlic and onion in butter until softened. Add spinach, broccoli, cream, mustard, spices and cream cheese. Cover and simmer on low temperature, stirring often to integrate cheese as it melts. Use an immersion blender or food processor to chop if a finer texture is desired. Stir in about half the white cheese, letting it melt into the hot spinach. Use remaining shredded cheese to garnish while serving.

Now, I love anything with sun-dried tomatoes, but it’s troublesome and expensive to keep sun-dried tomatoes on hand. As a result I make dried tomatoes in the oven. It takes some foresight, but I find these are just ask tasty as sun-dried from the store:


1 (15 oz) cans of diced tomatoes, drained
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Cover a shallow container (roughly just large enough to fit the tomatoes spread out in a thick layer) with tin foil, leaving enough of a flap to cover. Drizzle tomatoes with oil and spread evenly in the pan. Cover lightly with foil flap. Allow to dry for several hours; check about once an hour to see if they have reached desired dryness. If the tomatoes at the edges are getting a little crisp when you check on them, while the ones in the center are still plump, stir them all up before putting them back in.

So, once you have created for yourself a supply of dried tomatoes, be they from the sun, the oven, the store, or of your own making, you are ready to begin the Dried Tomato Mac & Cheese. When I make Mac & Cheese, it’s very much an “eye-it-up” approach, so I’m not going to give exact measurements here. It’s up to you to wing it and add items to taste:

Oven-dried Tomato Mac & Cheese in progressOVEN-DRIED TOMATO MAC & CHEESE

diced onions (a half a cup or so)
minced garlic (a teaspoon or two)
olive oil or butter
dried tomatoes
pepper (white, black, cayenne or paprika, or any or all of the preceding)
sour cream
shredded cheddar cheese
milk or cream, if needed

Cook the pasta as desired. The servings of pasta will fundamentally be the determining factor of how much this recipe yields, so boil accordingly. Meanwhile, saute the garlic and onions in butter (or oil) over medium to low heat in a saucepan until onions are soft. By now, the pasta should be done, so drain it. Take the saucepan of onions, garlic and butter off the fire and add pasta to the saucepan. Toss to coat. Add your pepper and dried tomatoes (again, as many or few as you like, cut up as finely as you like; my only advice is to drain them if they are packed in oil). Spoon in cold sour cream. Stir it in to the pasta mixture. Add more and stir again until you’ve added enough to coat the contents thinly. At this point, add the shredded cheese and turn the burner on again, setting it to low. As you stir in the cheese (again, to taste, and depending on the amount of pasta, you need to eye it up) it should begin to melt slowly. Melting slowly is a good thing. Don’t leave the pan unattended at this point. Stir often and add a splash of milk here and there if the sauce seems too thick. Once the cheese has just melted into the sauce, it’s ready to serve!

My bumpy teeth, and the wonders of Aligner Chewies

My first two weeks (i.e. first aligner) of Invisalign braces has thus far been a seeming success. I have noticed small tooth movements (mostly by virtue of having noticeably more space between certain teeth when I floss) and have gotten mostly accustomed to wearing the aligners. I suspect they will continue to get more comfortable, but also that I will continue to have some mild mouth discomfort here and there. Throughout these two weeks, different parts of my mouth have gone through different courses of adjustment. My mouth has experienced a low level of irritation in one place or another most of the time (it’s tingly when I drink wine). Certain teeth go through stages of aching here and there (though sometimes because I’m grinding them–working on getting rid of that sudden habit). One side of my tongue became suddenly sore at the beginning of week two, who knows why? But certainly nothing that would have deterred me from my course. Overall, it’s been more comfortable than I expected.

Aligner with Attachment WellsNext up, however, things are going to change. Aligner #2 is my first bumpy aligner.

While “bumpy” isn’t the technical name for it, that’s pretty much the best way to describe it. So, what’s all this bumpiness about? Lo so many years ago when Invisalign was first invented, it could only be used on fairly straightforward and simple cases. With time came innovation, and the introduction of the dreaded “attachments.” Attachments are clear (in my case) or tooth-colored bumps that are place strategically on one’s teeth so that the aligners can achieve more challenging tooth movements that would not be possible from the aligners alone. As a consequence the aligners must have “wells” into which the attachment bumps will fit making them, essentially, bumpy as well. Bumpy teeth, bumpy aligners… this part of Invisalign is so “dreaded” because it’s what makes the process less than completely invisible.

I must say, I wasn’t particularly pleased to learn that I would be getting attachments on my top eye teeth. When I told my doctor initially that I wanted to opt out of attachments on my visible top teeth, my orthodontist apparently did not seem to think that eye teeth were included in that statement, but rather only my front four teeth. Alas, from what I read online, many orthodontists are reluctant to divulge the full extent of attachment usage unless specifically pressed. I thought I had done all the necessary research and asked all the right questions, but even I wasn’t specific enough… if you’re thinking of getting Invisalign and concerned about the attachments, my advice is to ask your orthodontist exactly which front teeth (point to them one-by-one, if you must) will need them and exactly how many you will need altogether.

Now, I’m still not going to get my attachments on for another three weeks, but my second aligner has the “bumps” or wells, indicating where the attachments will be. I do have to give my orthodonist a lot of credit for stepping me up slowly into the process. The first aligner had no bumps, allowing my initial transition to be as invisible as possible. Now, I’ll have the first preview of what attachments will be like, visually and comfort-wise (at least when the aligners are on) before actually getting them placed on my teeth.

Upon putting my second aligner in, I was surprised at how much tighter it was than the first aligner had become over the two weeks. This is good, of course, as it means that the first aligner successfully wrangled my teeth. I also put the second aligners in before bed (rather than getting them in the orthodontist’s office in the morning and leaving them in for work), which works out significantly better. I felt a new tightness and pressure, certainly, but no pain until the next day when I took them out. And then, much less so than when I took them out and put them back in at lunch on my very first day of getting the aligners.

Aligner ComparisonNow for the bumps… I can’t feel or see the bottom ones, really, at all unless I peel my lower lip back to look at them or run my tongue over them. The top ones I can feel more consciously when I open and close my lips. As for visibility, they are less obvious than I feared, but more visible than I had hoped. The one on my top right eye tooth is particularly annoying because it’s on the front side of the tooth (the one on my top left eye tooth is situated toward the back). The one on the front of my right eye tooth is also, as far as I can tell, the largest attachment. I’m not thrilled about it, but I figure I’ll live with it for three weeks (since I have to) and see how it plays (i.e. whether people notice, whether I can live with it) and talk to my orthodontist about whether I can opt out of that attachment. Now, the problem with opting out at this stage is that I’ll still have the bump. The aligner bump alone is less noticeable than the attachment plus bump, and it will be more comfortable and attractive when my aligner is off (which I’m allowed to do for an average of 4 hours a day) not to have it, but I would still have to deal with the bump when my aligners are on. There is an option to get the aligners re-made without the bump, and while my orthodontist won’t charge extra money for that, it will cost me another five weeks in treatment time to get a new set made. Decisions, decisions….

In the meantime, one of the highlights of my treatment so far has been the Aligner Chewies. Since discovering them for the first time two weeks ago when I received them in the startup packet from the orthodontist, I’ve done a bit of research on them. Apparently, since they aren’t actually made or endorsed by Invisalign, a lot of Invisalign providers don’t know about them or don’t use them. Some Invisalign users have them, but forget to use them or disregard them. I would recommend any Invisalign user look into them, if you don’t already have them, or start using them more if you do, but have heretofore neglected them.

Aligner ChewiesI cannot say enough good things about the chewies. The purpose of these chewies is to help the aligner get seated better on the teeth. Sometimes when teeth are a little stubborn in adjusting to a new aligner, chewies can help get it to fit. In addition to these basic chewie functions, I’ve found they do me a world of good. I chew them every time after a put my aligners in. I find they just make the aligner fit better and make it worlds more comfortable. In that first week when I was still getting used to the aligner, chewies made it feel less like it was “on” my teeth, and more like it was my teeth (not totally, of course, but more than otherwise). When I put a new aligner in and my teeth are sore, the chewies help ease the pain. Now, I’m not saying they are an analgesic; when your teeth hurt, it hurts to chew them, but afterward the aligner sits better and the pain dissipates faster. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m a mouth-fidgeter. My tongue still goes exploring over the bumps and edges of the new aligner, but no where near as badly as the first week. When my tongue was scraped up from over-fidgeting that first week, and my patience had run thin with this new, strange plastic thing in my mouth, the chewies keep my mouth occupied and my mind distracted for that crucial hour or two extra before it was truly a good time to remove them.

Finally, I have found the chewies peculiarly useful for a problem unrelated to Invisalign. As my close friends, family and foes know (okay, maybe not the foes), I am mildly narcoleptic. When I’m comfortable, warm, well-fed and watching TV and/or reading a book, I am not long for consciousness. This becomes particularly annoying in the evenings when I want to watch, maybe, two episodes of a TV show, rather than one and a half (the other half being slept through). Most of the time, when I’m working on a chewie, I don’t get sleepy, or at least it doesn’t creep up on me without my realizing until I wake up on the couch at 5am. The chewie keep me awake until the end of a second episode, or the end of a current chapter, when reading.

As a consequence of this recreational chewie usage, I do end up chewing a lot more than recommended. I’ve already pretty much pulverized one of the original chewies I got two weeks ago. I checked with my orthodontist’s office and they assured me that I cannot over-use the chewies, except in that they will make my jaw sore if I chew too much (already been there), so I feel confident in my overuse of chewies and recommend frequent use of chewies to any Invisalign patient.

Chettinad Curry

Last week I finally got a chance to try a curry recipe I’ve been intending to make for some time, Chettinad Curry. After having a Chettinad numerous times at various restaurants around the city, I was anxious to try my own hand at this dish. Chettinad curries I’ve had in the past rely heavily on dark and aromatic spices, cinnamon, clove, cardamom, anise, allspice, mace, etc. I worked off a recipe in one of my go-to curry cookbooks, but as usual, I changed the method and some ingredients to suit my cooking style and ingredient stock. I also decided to use chickpeas, where normally this recipe would call for chicken. As usual, I treat most curry recipes as a recipe for sauce that can be used on any sort of meat or vegetable (or in my case, legume). Here is the result:


2 teaspoons poppy seeds
1/2 cup grated coconut
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 green cardamoms
scant 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 cup oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon anise
1 teaspoons red pepper (cayenne or paprika, depending on your heat tolerance)
1 (15oz) can of diced tomatoes in juice
1 tablespoons lime juice
2 (14oz) cans of chickpeas, drained, or 1 lb. meat (cubed) or vegetables
1 (14oz) can of coconut milk
fresh cilantro or coriander chutney for garnish

Combine all ingredients up to and including lime juice in the bowl of a food processor and puree. Transfer to a pan and saute the mixture for a few minutes, then add the meat, vegetable or legume or your choice. Add the coconut milk and stew until your contents reach their desired doneness. Meat can be stewed covered for a few hours, chickpeas could simply be heated through, or cooked until some of the liquid evaporates for a thicker sauce. Serve with rice and/or bread. Garnish with cilantro or chutney.

So, this recipe was quite tasty. The only thing was I’m not entirely sure it really tasted like a Chettinad Curry… or at least not quite like the Chettinad curries I’ve had in restaurants. I understand that Chettinad cuisine is probably quite varied and the curries called “Chettinad” on a menu may just be a small sampling. I also took a good bit of liberty by using coconut milk instead of the larger amount of grated coconut called for in the recipe. The poppy seeds didn’t strike me as particularly like any Chettinad curry I had before, and yet I much enjoyed the flavor they added.

In sum, I enjoyed this curry very much, and though it was not what I had expected, it was ultimately quite delicious and a dish I will certainly make again.

Father’s Day Feast

It is a weekly ritual Neilbert and I keep that I cook him dinner every Sunday and we watch an episode of Star Trek. After getting through all seven seasons of TNG, we have moved on to Voyager, at Neilbert’s request (he was never a big DS9 fan).

Since we do this routine every Sunday, it seemed like I should do a little something different for Father’s Day, and so I asked Neilbert ahead of time which of my recipes are his favorite so that I could make an all request meal. After a bit of brainstorming, Neilbert requested spanish rice, and after further brainstorming I suggested tuna patties… and he didn’t refuse.

Spanish RiceI first made spanish rice from scratch for Neilbert several months ago. Being on a salt-restricted diet, Neilbert stays away from basically anything in the boxed-mix aisle. Hamburger Helper, Kraft Deluxe Mac, Rice-a-Roni… it’s all chock full of salt. In fact, almost anything with a spice mix (including actual spice mixes in the spice aisle) is chock full of salt. Luckily, with just a little Googling, you can pretty much make your own spice mixes for anything sans salt.


1 cup uncooked rice (regular long-grain rice, not instant rice)
1 onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
3 tablespoons vegetable oil or butter
2 1/2 cups water
1 (15 oz) can of low salt diced tomatoes in juice
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon cilantro
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander (optional)
1 pinch ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2-1 lb. ground meat

Saute rice, onion and bell pepper in a medium non-stick skillet until rice is golden brown. Transfer to a medium-large saucepan. Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the meat and tomato paste, cover and simmer.

Brown meat in your skillet. Add to the saucepan when cooked. Simmer all ingredients in the saucepan until rice is tender. Add tomato paste. Heat through, serve hot.

If you don’t have all these spices in your arsenal, you can use a tablespoon or two of chili powder. The reason I don’t use it is because most chili powder has, you guessed it, salt. Tuna Cake with Dijon SauceChili powder, as sold in most grocery stores in the vicinity of the McCormick spice rack is not, in fact, powdered chilies, but rather a fairly standardized spice mix. It’s “chili” as in “five alarm chili” not “chili” as in “hot Thai chili.” Of course, at some Asian groceries and in some Asian cookbooks, chili powder does hold the “hot Thai” connotation (or Kashmiri, Reshampti, etc.), but that’s a chili topic for another day.

The second recipe I made was for tuna cakes, a standard in my repertoire for many years. I have done derivations on this recipe for years, including variations with salmon and crab, with various types of cheeses, but the original tuna and cheddar version is a great way to enjoy seafood cakes without the expense of crab. On Father’s Day I made the old standard recipe, and it always yields great results.


2 (6 ounce) cans white tuna, drained
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup mayonnaise or Miracle Whip
1 egg
1/3 cup blue cheese or ranch dressing
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped green pepper

Djion mustard

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl until well combined. The mix can be made ahead and refrigerated for a few hours. To prepare the topping, mix together equal parts mayo and mustard. Chill until serving. Prior to cooking, form the tuna mixture into patties and arrange on a nonstick tray. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake until cakes get a bit of a golden crust on top, about 20 to 30 minutes. Serve the cakes hot with the mustard dressing on the side.

For both the tuna cakes and the spanish rice, you can make your life a lot easier by getting diced frozen onions and diced frozen green peppers. Most grocery stores have them in the frozen section and they’ll help cut preparation time dramatically. I always keep frozen onions around because my eyes are very sensitive and they water easily at the vapors released by cutting an onion. Also, for either recipe, ground hot pepper can be added, to taste, for those with spicy tastes.

The Theme of Today’s Books is: Panama.

Last year about this time I was in Panama. It’s not a spot I’d recommend visiting. Far and away the two best things about the place (we stayed in Panama City and on the truly depressing island of Taboga) were the Bed and Breakfast we stayed in while in Panama City, Casa Las Americas, and the touristing we did related to the Panama Canal – the canal itself, and the canal museum located in the “old section” of Panama City. Nothing in this museum is in English, and Ted and I speak no Spanish, but we still managed to spend almost three hours there, looking at all of the exhibits and trying through the decipherment of cognates to piece together what the panels of texts throughout the museum were trying to tell us – part of the fun actually turned out to be this construction of our own, poorly translated history: “Holy shit! Teddy Roosevelt conquered France!”

The front cover of McCullough's book, featuring a painting of a ship steaming through a canal bounded by forested hills.Anyhoo, while we were at the canal itself, which has many displays in English, and where you can (and we did) eat lunch while overlooking the Miraflores locks, waving to the sparse crews on the enormous ships that pass through on their way to and from the Pacific, we also hit the gift shop, ’cause, c’mon. While there, I got a Panama Canal t-shirt – OF COURSE – and a book by David McCullough, “The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914”.

I finally got around to reading it, and the chief reflection I have after it is that reviews of good books are much, much more boring than reviews of bad books. “The Path Between the Seas” is a dense historical account, but McCullough, who won the National Book Award twice, once for this book, and the Pulitzer Prize twice, is an able narrator. The book must surely be the definitive account of the building of the canal – no stone is left unturned by McCullough, either in the account of the failed French efforts on the Isthmus or the triumphant American ones. Considering that the book was written in the 1970s, McCullough even does an admirable job of addressing the lives of the massive population of oppressed black laborers that built the canal, though his account is still very much a part of the “Big Men Doing Big Deeds” style of history. Despite its density of fact, the book is very readable. Basically, all of this boils down to, if you have any interest in the Panama Canal, American history at the turn of the 20th century, or engineering history generally, you should check this book out. Even if you don’t have an interest in any of those things, you might be surprised at how interesting this book actually is, if you’re patient with it.

The front of The Leafcutter Ants, featuring an ant cutting a piece out of a green leaf on a black background.The other book on the table for today is “The Leafcutter Ants: Civilization by Instinct” by Bert Holldolber and Edward O. Wilson. You see, while we were having breakfast one morning on the shaded veranda of the Casa Las Americas, we had the pleasure of watching some leafcutter ants at work. They came up the side of the building, to the second story where we were seated, marched along the edge of the porch, and began to swarm gently over some flowering bushes that were planted in the large, deep planter that rimmed the entire porch. We could see them carefully chewing out pieces of the leaves and bright pink flowers, which, when finally freed, they then carried over their heads like little sails or parasols (in the southern U.S., leafcutter ants are known as “parasol ants”), marching off in a train that passed the incoming train of ants exactly. It was fascinating and lovely in its way, each little ant with its brightly colored confetti, tromping through the shade and sun. Said our host, the American ex-pat owner of the B & B, “They’re not good for the bushes. I guess I should kill them or something, but they’re just working so hard – it doesn’t seem right.” He watched them with us for awhile, and then went about his work.

A line of three little brown ants with pieces of green leaf held aloft over their heads.With these industrious little Panamanian ants in mind, Ted picked up, not too long ago, from the Borders as it went out of business, “The Leafcutter Ants.” It is a small, shiny book with lots of pictures, and I figured it would make a nice thematic coda to the book on the canal.

Well, let me tell you, just because a book is small and shiny and full of pictures doesn’t mean it’s going to be a light read. This book reads like a scientific paper. It is dense with particularized terms and scientific details – this chemical, this sensory lobe structure, this genetic marker, etc. Now. That doesn’t mean it’s not interesting – these little ants inhabit a fascinating world, where they live in symbiosis with not just fungi but bacteria as well, and in competition with different fungal and ant foes, and the way they’ve evolved in tandem with their mutualist partners to cope with these threats is a testament to the beauty and intricacy of natural selection and the world of life in general. I’m just saying, don’t pick up this book thinking that it’s shiny and small and full of pictures and think that it’s going to be an easy read. Ants might be wee, but they are COMPLEX.

Orange Eggs

Sometimes it takes a couple tries before a recipes for deviled eggs turns out the way I want it to. This recipe is based on one I originally found in a cookbook. It was initially altered based on the ingredients I had on hand. For instance, the original recipe called for white wine vinegar, and I only had white wine. The original recipe called for canned chipotles, and the best I could do at the time was a mix of smoked paprika and cayenne pepper. The first effort was okay, but something was missing, so I redoubled my efforts and tried again. The second time I was much pleased. I imagine my version would be good with chopped, canned chipotles as well, so in the spirit of experimentation, feel free to use whatever you have on hand.


6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon grated orange zest (more or less to taste)
dash of cayenne pepper, or more to taste
salt or pepper to taste
more paprika for garnish

Halve the eggs and remove the yolks. Combine the yolks, mayo, sour cream, lemon juice, mustard, paprika, orange zest and cayenne pepper in a small bowl with egg beaters until smooth. Spoon into egg white halves, chill and serve.

What’s good about these eggs is that they aren’t sweet, like you might expect. The orange zest adds orange flavor without the sugar of orange juice. Unless you add a lot of cayenne pepper, then these taste more or less like a classic deviled egg with a something extra. I never really measure my zest, I just grate it into the bowl until it looks about right, so feel free to use more or less zest to suit your tastes. The important element I discovered here was the lemon juice. The first round of these I tried making didn’t have enough depth; the use of lemon juice instead of vinegar or wine enhances the citrus flavor without distracting from the character of orange. I suppose regular paprika could be used instead of smoked, but I’m generally a fan of a little smokey flavor, and so I would recommend it if you have it. Otherwise, these eggs are highly recommended for anyone looking for a slight twist on the classic egg.

Invisalign, Day One

About two months ago I started the process of researching Invisalign braces in order to straighten my teeth, a task left undone in my teenage years because of the relative aesthetic acceptability of my teeth. They were never horrendous, just a bit crooked, the bottom and rarely visible half of my jaw being much moreso than my top teeth, the crookedness of which you probably wouldn’t even notice unless you were specifically interested. I won’t go into details of my research and decision process here; if readers are interested I can blog about that later.

Misaligned, but not horrifically soThis week I received my first set of aligners (Invisalign straightens the teeth gradually via several sets of clear aligners each worn for two weeks at a time), and so it occurred to me that for the first time in this already seemingly extensive process, I actually had a real product to review. Invisalign blogs abound on the internet, and while I don’t feel the need to contribute further duplicate information to the blogosphere, everyone’s experience is different, and I read many a blog entry as I was researching Invisalign and found them helpful. Starting a completely separate blog for Invisalign seems like overkill, and since I already have a blog in which most of my entries review a product or service, it seemed only logical to include commentary on my Invisalign experience here. After all, Invisalign is probably the most expensive purchase I’ve made in my adult life, second only to my car (unless you count my Bachelor’s Degree).

Misaligned, and kind of horrifically soI went to my orthodontist, King Orthodontics downtown (those who know me know that I wouldn’t be caught dead in that bastion of suburb-o-phobia Wexford unless compelled there for my job, which unfortunately happens sometimes), on Tuesday this week to get my first two sets of aligners. I will wear each one for two weeks.

I wasn’t sure whether I would actually keep the aligners in all day Tuesday. Research online and my orthodontist himself advises putting a new set of aligners in before going to sleep at night and taking some Advil so to sleep through the initial pain of tooth movement. Each new set of aligners moves the teeth incrementally during the first couple days and then allows them to set up in their new positions for the rest of the two weeks, before they are moved again.

I had prepared for this day vigilantly, not only by doing research, but also using my custom teeth whitening trays (obtained from a do-it-yourself kit on Amazon) to “practice” by wearing them for a few hours at a time. The custom teeth whitening trays certainly weren’t ideal, and I knew that they were only an approximate preview of the Invisalign. The teeth whitening trays, despite being custom, aren’t as well fitted or trimmed, aren’t as tight, are much softer and gummier, not being made of the same material… but it was the only way I had to “test out” wearing something like an aligner before making the decision to go forward with Invisalign.

My first impression upon putting in the first real Invisalign tray was that they were much more comfortable than I expected. They are light and don’t take up as much space in my mouth as the teeth trays. The edges along my gums are well-trimmed and don’t rub my lips at all. The teeth trays made my lips dry when I spoke, but the Invisalign trays don’t seem to have any but the most minor effect on the dryness of my lips or mouth, which I was worried about, as that is a common side effect. I may have a bit of a lisp, but honestly, I think I’m probably the only one who can hear it. My co-workers forgot that I was getting my braces that day until I took the aligners out at lunch.

So, based on the initial comfort of the aligners, I decided to keep them in for the rest of the day. There was certainly a feeling of pressure, as the aligners did fit tightly and were indeed moving my teeth (as I found out at dinner), but no pain, so I kept them in.

Standard Invisalign Stock Photo of AlignerIt was all well and good until after lunch. The aligners must be taken out for meals so that they don’t get unnecessarily dirty and, well, because it’s just more pleasant to eat with your bare teeth than with plastic coated ones. It’s recommend that only clear beverages be consumed white the aligners are in. This means water, cold or hot and, I’m assuming… vodka? I imagine clear sodas like Sprite or tonic would be okay, too, but I wouldn’t want to go too long after that before cleaning my teeth and my aligners. The aligners are tight but not water-tight. Saliva and water gets into the aligners (up close you can see bubbles between the plastic and the teeth), and I wouldn’t want to leave a sugary beverage to sit in my aligners for too long.

Teeth must be cleaned before reinsertion of the aligners after a meal, as thoroughly as possible with brush and floss (I use some sort of mouth rinse, too, either Listerine or hydrogen peroxide). It was at this point the pain became noticeable. When I first put my aligners back in after lunch, they hurt. Not terrible soul-rending pain, not even equivalent to a bad headache, but sore, definitely sore. They had only been out for a half hour, but those teeth–slippery critters–had endeavored to make their way back to where they’d been in the morning. The pain was the least of my worries when I signed up, and it’s still nothing I can’t handle. The soreness is mild, just persistent.

It was good I had an hour or so before my next lesson. I took some Advil, of course. I also found drinking hot water to be soothing. Before Invisalign, I drank hot tea throughout the day at work. No matter what time of year, it’s always cold at work. In the summer, the air conditioning is cranked up, in the winter, the heat is kept minimal so that people dancing won’t get too overheated. When I’m not dancing, myself, I’m always freezing, and so I drink hot beverages. When I knew I’d be getting Invisalign, I figured I could get rid of my tea bags and started in with hot water alone. I was worried, of course, that hot water might damage my Invisalign, but the patient consultant at my orthodontist’s office assured me that hot water is okay to drink. As it turns out, the hot water is also soothing to my teeth when they’re sensitive (which is good, being that it’s one of the only things I can drink with the aligners in).

The other thing that helps is the aligner chewies my orthodontist provided in my starting pack. This was the one aspect of Invisalign I hadn’t heard about before my orthodontist office gave them too me. They aren’t actually made by Invisalign, and some people may go through their whole treatment without using them, but they supposedly help aid in tooth movement by making sure the retainer is seated on the teeth as well as it possibly can be. It is a rubbery plastic cylinder that you chew on with the aligners in. When my teeth are sore, it does hurt to chew them, but once the aligner is better seated, the soreness abates a bit. I suspect it might also help stimulate blood flow to the teeth and gums, perhaps similar to a teething child, after all, no other chewing (eating, gum, gnashing of teeth) is really happening when the aligners are in. I’ve since Googled the chewies and found that some people online constantly forget to use them, but I’ve found that my aligners don’t feel quite snug until I bite down on the chewie for a bit. I only use one chewie at a time; two is too much for my mouth.

Aligner ChewiesThe longer I had my aligner in, the less my teeth hurt (perhaps that was also the Advil kicking in), but by the end of that first day, the aligners had begun to wear on me at bit. Not in the sense that I couldn’t stand then and wanted them out (in fact, I was kind of dreading having to put then back in after dinner, considering the soreness I had earlier), just more of an “itch,” a feeling that it would be kind of nice to have them out for awhile, sort of like reaching the end of the day when you’ve been wearing an effective strapless bra (sorry non-cross-dressing men, you’ll have to think up your own analogy). Certainly a lot better than my “trial runs” with the teeth trays; I could only really stand them for a couple hours at a time.

I got home, made myself some dinner and resisted taking the aligners out until the last possible moment. Now my teeth were sore in a different way. I noticed it with my first bite of food. I had to chew my food gingerly, working at it softly or else I would get a sharp sting of soreness. It was really no matter, just had to eat my food slowly (good for me, because usually as soon as I stop eating I fall asleep), and the further along I got in dinner, the less they hurt. The other thing I noticed is that I would have to be careful about closing my teeth completely. My teeth weren’t in the same place anymore. Some teeth would collide, top to bottom, in an unexpected way if I closed my jaw without thinking.

Shortly after dinner I did the whole cleaning regimen and popped the aligners back in. I was worried about sleeping through the night, but the aligners actually got more comfortable as I slept. They were probably the most comfortable they had been in twenty four hours when I woke up in the morning.

They’ve been generally better since, though sometimes still a little sore (nothing requiring even Advil). I can tell I’m slowly growing accustomed to them, though when I’m not talking, drinking or using the chewie, my jaw muscles get a little tense. I suspect that this resting tension will stop as my mouth comes to realize that these aligners are the new status quo of my teeth, at least for the next year and a half.

Unfortunately my Invisalign transition is not over, even when I become accustomed to wearing the trays. In another four weeks I get my attachments, small nodes of glass that will be placed on certain of my teeth to aid in rotation. Until then, I persist with tray one!

Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams (3D)

The movie poster for Cave of Forgotten DreamsLast night Ted and I made the trek out to Robinson to go to the Cinemark theater at Settler’s Ridge. “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” was released months ago, but the Robinson Cinemark is the first place in the area to show it; Tuesdays, by the by, are the “sale” days out at that theater – our 3D tickets were $8.25 apiece.

First, a word about 3D: in general, like Roger Ebert, I’m opposed. I’ve seen several “blockbuster” type movies in 3D, and I never think the experience adds much to the viewing. To begin with, 3D movies do not resemble human, stereoscopic vision – rather, what they allow is for you to examine all of the plains of focus in the shot, since all of the plains are simultaneously in focus, as opposed to traditional 2D films, which confine the viewer’s examining gaze to only that plain that the director has chosen to focus on. The thing is, my experience has been that there’s never anything worth examining in these 3D blockbusters’ other plains – the directors never seem to take the opportunity to fill the middle or far distance with anything visually interesting or important, making the opportunity to examine them not worth the distractingly unrealistic nature of the 3D format, nor the increased ticket price. In general, it seems 3D directors only value the ability to have fists, swords, exploding debris, or what have you “fly out of the screen” at the viewer, and I don’t see that that enhances the movie-viewing experience, certainly not to the tune of five extra bucks.

Cave drawings, in black on undulating stone walls, of mane-less lions

A pride of lions from Chauvet cave.

However, also like Roger Ebert, I thought “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” utilizes 3D differently and well. The movie is a documentary that explores the Chauvet cave, discovered in France in 1994, which contains the earliest known cave paintings produced by human beings – the paintings, spanning thousands of years, are between 40,000 and 30,000 years old. A rockslide sealed the mouth of the cave many thousands of years ago, preserving it perfectly until it was recently rediscovered. Since its discovery, the French government has kept it carefully sealed and guarded, allowing only scientists to briefly enter the still nearly pristine cave; even they must limit their visits to a scant hour or two at a time, and they may only tread on a narrow, carefully laid steel track. This cave and its artifacts are treasures of humanity, and the care with which they are being preserved gives one a sense of relief.

A cave painting, in black on undulating stone walls, of horse heads.

Horses on the Walls of Chauvet

The drawings themselves are breathtaking, heart-rending renditions of prehistoric animals in overlapping numbers, doing battle, nuzzling, running, uttering. The geology of the cave itself is also stunning, and here is where the 3D makes the film: all of the plains of focus in the cave are worth examining in the minutest of detail – the geologic formations, the bones of animals preserved over time, and the drawings themselves, which were drawn upon undulating walls and which the artists rendered in such a way as to take advantage of the walls’ undulations in conveying a sense of movement in their animal subjects.

Werner Herzog narrates the film, and if you’ve ever seen a Werner Herzog movie before, you know he’s absolutely crazy, which can be fun. (I highly recommend you check out Encounters At the End of the World, streaming live on Netflix, for an example of his batshittery and the unexpected joy it brings to some of his films.) But crazy can be distracting, too, so it’s lucky that Herzog chooses to narrate Cave of Forgotten Dreams only lightly, and so does not tread on the absolute wonder he documents in this cave, which seems to represent the beginning of human-ness, the birth of what Herzog calls the human soul.

A painting, in black, on an undulating rock wall, of a rhinocerous with an enormous horn

Chuavet Rhinocerous

What I found most striking about the drawings was their continuity over time: scientists have determined that different drawings were made up to 5,000 years apart, and yet they clearly share the same artist’s conception of the world and its creatures. Considering the fragmentation of our modern culture – our inability to meaningfully understand our ancestors’ lives of only a hundred or so years ago, or even our inability to understand our contemporaries if they are located too far from our experience – it astounds me that these ancient artists’ work and its content was coherent and meaningful to their fellow artists thousands of years later.

I was also struck by their impression of the natural world as literally teeming with life: the animals on the cave walls are in crowds, they suggest multitudes. I believe that if you could transport one of the artists from 30,000 years ago to the present, the absence in the modern world of this crowd of life would be the most shocking change. Technology, of course, has advanced, but these people, our ancestors, had tools, and understood their usefulness – once the shock had worn off, I’m sure they would see and understand that our buildings, equipment, transportation devices, are all just improved tools for survival. But I get the sense that the absence, in our ever-diminishing world of environmental degradation, of the teeming host of fellow creatures that must have been of such bedrock importance to a time-travelling paleolithic artist would be irreconcilable.

Lemon Edamame Dip & Homemade Tortilla Chips

This is a recipe I’ve made a few times, and played with the ingredients along the way. As I originally found this recipe, it was designed to be vegan, and thus used oil instead of butter. But as a non-vegan, myself, I always felt like something was missing from the flavor of this dish and so decided to substitute butter, to great effect. Any vegans who object are more than welcome to substitute oil back in for the butter.

Edamame DipOne more note on this recipe, as much as I love my new immersion blender, it didn’t work too well with this dish, given the texture and the smaller amount of food. A food processor is a must for this one.


1 cup shelled edamame
1/3 cup frozen peas
2 tablespoons butter or oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chopped green onion
4 tablespoons lemon juice (if using fresh lemons, add a bit of zest too!)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper
salt & pepper to taste
water, as needed
fresh cilantro (optional)

Boil the edamame in a pot of water for about ten minutes. When there are only two minutes left, add the peas. Drain. Meanwhile melt the butter in a small saucepan and saute the garlic and green onion until softened. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the drained legumes, onion, garlic and butter, plus lemon juice and spices. Add a small amount of water to get the ingredients to process smoothly (no more than 1/2 a cup). If you have fresh cilantro on hand, add some as the ingredients process. Chill and serve.

I didn’t have any plain chips on hand this weekend, and so when I was looking for something to serve with the edamame dip, I decided to try making my own chips out of store-bought tortilla shells. The result was easy and tasty.


Flour or corn tortillas
salt or seasoning (optional)

Cut the stack of tortillas into fourths or eighths, depending on the size. Burrito size will easily get cut into eight, but smaller corn tortillas will probably only be feasible as cuts of four. Brush the tortillas with oil, or skim them through a plate or bowl of shallow oil so that they are lightly coated. I let them sit a few minutes all stacked up while I did other stuff and preheated the oven to 350. Arrange a single layer of tortilla triangles on a non-stick baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes per batch. Place into a freezer bag and toss with salt or seasoning.

These chips turned out tasty and crisp. I used flour tortillas, and they didn’t really seem to taste much like a store-bought or restaurant chip, so maybe next time I’ll try corn tortillas. Still, they did the job and provided a simple, but tasty delivery device for dip.

Weekend at the Trailer

Over Memorial Day Weekend, Sarah decided to avail herself of the Trailer, and asked Ted and I to accompany her. Not having any plans ourselves, we decided this was a capital idea.

The Trailer has been mentioned before, in my Blog of Yesteryear “Salamanca, Ho!”. Sarah’s parents own a single-wide trailer in Great Valley, New York, which is situated near Salamanca and Ellicottville, and near the Seneca Nation. Calling this abode a trailer doesn’t really do it justice: it’s got three bedrooms, a nice small living room with cable TV, and a full kitchen and dining area, plus a washer/dryer and whole-house air conditioning, which we might have broken. Sarah’s father, known popularly as Neilbert, grew up in Salamanca, and his brothers and many of his family members still reside there. Plus Neilbert is an avid skier, and so on many weekends, he and wife Saundra will venture up to New York to see the family and do some skiing, weather permitting. This was not one of those weekends, though, so off went the younger generation to enjoy the Trailer.

Two car decals, one of Calvin, of Calvin and Hobbes, praying to a cross, the other of a naked woman wearing a cowboy hat in silhouette.

I felt like I learned a lot about the middle of nowhere in the gas station.

We drove through the middle of nowhere, PA, and though it’s actually a route I’d traveled before (See my Blog of Yesteryear “Smethport, Ho!”), I’m always sort of amazed at how much straight-up Nothing there is in the world, and how many people are willing – I would assume even pleased – to live amongst so much Nothing. I realize Pittsburgh may not seem like The Big City to certain residents of New York, LA, or Chicago, but I assure you, when you get up near Kane, PA, Ted, Sarah, and I are City Folk, capital C capital F.

A man with long curly hair, a beard and glasses standing behind a counter full of food items.

Ted and the Provisions

We arrived and unpacked. The Trailer having a kitchen and all, it seemed prudent to bring provisions, to save money. Grocery shopping is one of my favorite hobbies, so I was pleased to put together what I viewed as a wholesome and tasty array of comestibles: whole-seed bread, cheeses, mixed nuts, cucumbers, tomatoes, pineapple, mango fresh and dried, cherries, Swedish Fish, and most of a bottle of Irish Whiskey. Sarah also brought snacks, including wines, ingredients to make deviled eggs and Doritos – mmm, Doritos. Doritos are the sort of thing that I never buy, because I know that having bought them I will just eat them, and that’s just not good for me. And yet. Doritos. So good. The Trailer was well stocked indeed.

We enjoyed a late lunch – and learned that Sarah loves Swedish Fish – and then took a nap. See, here’s the beauty of the Trailer: there’s nothing to do. Now, if I had to spend a couple of weeks there, I might very well get bored. But for a long weekend it’s great. Because at home, when you do nothing, you feel guilty. There’s always some damn thing you could be doing at home – something you could be cleaning, some household project that needs addressed, some social contact you owe a call to … whatever it is, doing nothing at home is always a shirking of responsibility. But doing nothing at the Trailer? Why, it’s all that can be done! Naps all around!

A photo of a fake shark mounted on the wall, appearing to menace a taxidermied, fierce-looking raccoon.

The Gin Mill had some colorful customers.

We awoke in the evening and headed into Ellicottville. Ellicotville is basically a one-block crossroads of nice things to do for the out-of-town skiiers who might not be completely satisfied with only what Salamanca has to offer; it’s got a microbrewery and a health food store and such things that the good small-town folk of rural Western New York may not have built on their own accord, had it not been for certain urban elements and their ski resorts. So much the better for us. We started out at a bar called The Gin Mill, where a previous Internet check had revealed wings were served. Being only an hour or so from Buffalo, Ted was eager to try to the local wings, assuming that proximity to Buffalo and quality of wings increase proportionally. The trouble is that Ted doesn’t like Buffalo Wings, per se – as I’ve previously mentioned, he has a delicate tongue, and does not care for spicy things. So he ordered BBQ wings. To me, this defeats the entire experiment seeking to answer the question “Are Buffalo Wings Better the Closer One Gets to Buffalo?” – but he could not be dissuaded. Here was the interesting thing we learned: Ellicottville BBQ sauce is vinegary. Now, I’ve encountered vinegary, Carolina-style BBQ sauces before (mostly in the Carolinas, natch), and they’re good, no doubt. But I was not expecting to encounter one in Western New York. Well. Now you know. Ted proclaimed them very good. Also, Sarah and I sampled the curly fries, which the menu claims are hand-cut to order, and which were very good indeed.
A man with long curly hair and a beard eating chicken wings, with sauce on his hands and face.

Ted gets down to business.

A picture of the back of a man and very large metal brewing tanks.

Where the magic happens.

From The Gin Mill, we headed over a block to the Ellicottville Brewing Company, which brews its own beer and serves dinner. We tried several of the beers, one I’d had previously, the Blueberry Wheat, which is charmingly served with blueberries dancing in it. I tried the Pantius Droppius, an Imperial Pale Ale, Sarah got the Black Jack Oatmeal Stout, and Ted tried the Bourbon Barrel Imperial – all were fine brews. We also sampled and ended up buying a growler of the Catt County Cuvee, which was floral and well-balanced and very, very good.

A picture of plates of food and beer - sandwiches and macaroni and cheese.

Dinner at the Ellicottville Brewing Company.

We also ate at the EBC, with somewhat mixed results. Ted and Sarah both ordered the pulled pork sandwich, which was very good – I sampled it. I got the portobello sandwich and asked for bacon on it, too, and that was also very good. We all got sides of mac and cheese, which was a little on the disappointing side, coming out sort of lukewarm and not as piquant as one might have hoped. Our meals were also served with fries, but mine were far too soggy from the escaping portobello juices to eat. Restaurants! If you intend to serve a portobello sandwich, you must serve sides on the actual side, in separate containers – the sandwich is just too messy to not have the mushroom juices swamp everything else on the plate. That is all.

A picture of a man with long curly hair, a beard and glasses holding up a white ticket with a cash sum printed on it.

The big winner.

Dying from the sheer amount of food we’d consumed, we took our growler and some leftovers (and a six-pack gift for Ted’s and my kittysitters, Carley and Will) and left Ellicottville. Ted wanted to try his luck at the Casino Niagara, which is operated by the Seneca Nation. Sarah and I aren’t gamblers, but we agreed to indulge Ted for a bit. The casino is large and nicely appointed. I’ve been in Vegas before, and while it’s not the Bellagio, it’s also modern and attractively designed. In 20 minutes Ted won $30 on the small-change slots, and we all considered this a success.

A picture of the outside of a small diner, with cars in the parking lot and blue sky behind, and a sign reading "Restaurant 25 cent coffee"

Langworthy's - now on Foursquare.

After our big day, we turned in early, and the next morning we headed out to Diner Breakfast. One of Ted’s favorite things to do while traveling is experience local diners, and we had plans to go to Eddy’s, just down the street from the Trailer. Alas, Eddy’s owners had closed up for the long weekend! And so we headed out of town to Langworthy’s, which is the second-smallest diner I’ve ever been in, and appears to serve the largest pancakes I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately I didn’t try the pancakes, only saw them from a distance – I had a perfectly good plate of eggs, potatoes, and bacon, and an absolutely fantastic biscuit. Sarah had cream chipped beef on toast, and Ted had an egg sammich. And we all had 25-cent coffee, as it seems to be the specialty of the house. And y’know, for 25 cents, it was good coffee. I mean, it wasn’t the best coffee I’ve ever had or anything, but seriously, at 25 cents it was a steal.

A picture of two men on a green lawn on either side of a black drum, one throwing a frisbee.

Local invention: Kan Jam. Jam Kan? Some such.

We lolligagged about for a bit, and then we headed over to Randolph, NY to go to Jenn and Trevor’s cook-out. Jenn and Trevor had occasioned my first stay at the Trailer, when I went to their wedding as Sarah’s date, as detailed in “Salamanca, Ho!”. Many of the same folk from the wedding were at the cook-out, including Sarah’s many Uncle -berts, and Uncle Howard, who may still think that Sarah and I are lesbian partners. If this is so, Ted’s presence was probably a minor mystery, but then, we could all three just be in a VERY progressive relationship, or perhaps Ted was just our egg donor subordinate. I was willing to spin off any of these tales, but Uncle Howard never asked. We got to meet Jenn’s and Trevor’s very cute furkids, including their rescued greyhouds, who are exactly what I like in a dog: calm and polite and quiet. Their heads are at hand-height, perfectly aligned for them to stand quietly next to you for an indefinite period of time while you rub their ears. We also were introduced to the game of Kan Jam, which provides a purpose to Frisbee tossing, which I had always previously regarded as aimless and a bit silly. It involves two teams of two people each, trying to score points by tossing the Frisbee to and fro and trying to get it into the Kans – either by the non-throwing partner smacking it into the top of the Kan, or the throwing partner pulling off the feat of actually tossing the Frisbee through the slot in the side of the Kan. It seemed a pleasant diversion, and the rumor is that it is of local (Western NY) origin. It’s good to the support the local customs, though Ted and I sat around in the shade like city folk, getting itchy from being outside.

We left as the mosquitoes were coming out and a few rain drops were beginning to fall – a few raindrops that turned into an impressive storm. Home at the Trailer, Ted and I showered off the itch and then we all decided to do some drinking, since, c’mon, that’s what vacations are for. There was the growler of beer, the boxes of wine Sarah had brought, the whiskey, and some further provision raiding, including Sarah’s delicious, delicious Doritos. We all got a little drunk and I got bossy, commanding Ted to refill our drinks for us and other such things. Sarah also got misty-eyed talking about how much she loves Neilbert, which I figure he’ll be glad to hear. I ate a crap-ton of Doritos. A good time was had by all.

The next morning it was paralyzingly hot, a condition not alleviated on the trip home, as Sarah’s PT Cruiser’s air conditioner is broken – also I got quite queasy from carsickness. But let’s not dwell on these unfortunate facts! The point is, we had a nice time at the Trailer, and Ted and I would like to return – we never saw the Seneca Nation museum, or got to eat at Eddy’s, and Buffalo is about an hour away, so we could make a day trip from the Trailer of wing sampling. I also gather that there are some vineyards in the area, and I do like me some wine tasting. So in conclusion, Hooray for the Trailer. Saundra and Neilbert, I hope we didn’t break your air conditioning.