December 25, 2003
Happy Holidays


Spinach Salad with Radishes & Onions
Pureed Celery Root with Potatoes, Gruyere & Saffron
Brasato di Maiale
Crostata di Mirtillo with Creme Anglaise

Christmas tradition is that the younger generation make the feast.

In the past I've done a goose (we like gamy birds); another year, a Welsh leg of lamb (with honey and thyme). Since the four of us have never actually been able to actually completely consume our Christmas dinner in the past, we went smaller, a bit homier this year with a recipe from Mario Batali (hands down runs the best cooking show on the Food Network) of pork shoulder braised in red wine with juniper berries, rosemary and pancetta, ringed with a salad of grilled scallions.

Brent at Wellspring found us a nice Boston Butt about 4 pounds, which was within the target range for something we could finish. My sister takes credit for interpreting Batali's recipe with aplomb, rendering a flavorful, complex, and tender (something we were fearful of not accomplishing) main dish. Eugenie also cheated by adding some butter at the finish. She also made the cranberry crostata, which has now become our traditional Christmas dessert. I went with the relatively simple Dean & Deluca recipe for celery root and potatoes. There is little chance of missing with such straightforward ingredients. Basically the celery root is pureed with heavy cream, butter and saffron, then incorporated with mashed russet potatoes and shredded Gruyere, topped with Gruyere, and thrown in the oven until the cheese on top is golden. My mother claimed that she couldn't taste the celery root--perhaps the gustatory receptors for celery root are variable from person to person.

Batali's recipe calls for marinating the shoulder for three days. Since we only bought the pork on Christmas day we cheated and marinated for one day and (including a stretch at room temp overnight--the room temp phase was more an oversight than intentional, as I'm not writhing in agony with bacterial dysentary, I think it was OK).

I got to keep my two front teeth for Christmas.

Posted by erich at 10:51 PM
December 23, 2003
Reverie: Silk Cayes, continued [13 April 1994]

One thing about being here is that everything is always in motion, the sea of course moves constantly & breaks over the coral reef. Also the wind moves just about everything, the tent flaps animatedly around me, the pal fronds clatter like leafy scissors even the roots of the trees protrude out of the sand & vibrate some low harmony.

Posted by erich at 08:21 AM
Reverie: Silk Cayes [13 April 2003]

Transcription of my Belize travel journal continued

I spent last night in a hammock & rocking in the stiff breeze made me think about how such a life is so marked a contrast to our normal cosmopolitan lives. Here I am, yielding myself to the wind & the sand & the stars & at home I lie w/in 4 sound walls, in a temperature controlled environment, on a coil-sprung bed--there's practically nothing left to chance there. Here, I am at the mercy of the sea--only because she has been reasonably obliging have I been able to function comfortably. It is a totally different mindset & even though I've become used to living out-of-doors, I'm never totally comfortable--I'm always a bit worried that a turn of bad luck can turn life into something very unpleasant.

I probably need too much control over my environment, at home I have many mechanisms to assert that control (as meager as they are). Outdoors, I feel a constant drive to maintain some orderliness, perhaps I should go with the flow more. Which kind of person is better at surviving? Not just here, but in general.

I do have to sit back & appreciate what I have here--who would believe us when I tell them I slept in a hammock, rocked by the wind looking up through the rustling fronds of a coconut tree to the stars?

The last few evenings I've been thinking about xxxxx ...

...& it was my birthday 4 days ago, I'm a quarter of a century years-old, what do you make of that? & now I've been thinking I should take a year off & go to Mariner's school. Is this a silly dream worthy of a quarter century old-timer, or a silly reverie of youth? I have such a vivid image in my mind of a tilted deck of a boat going into the wind close-hauled--it must be the coastal ancestry exerting its distant memories.

Posted by erich at 08:19 AM
December 22, 2003
Silk Cayes [12 April 1994]

My Belize travel journal, continued

We ventured off Pumpkin after goodbyes to Dash (a terrific dog w/caramel colored eyes & a mane like a lion's). Yesterday's wind had diminished to a breeze & paddling was much easier. On the way here we stopped at Round Caye, an uninhabited island w/dense palms, a tiny beach & a shore cluttered w/coral stones--the detritus of a fecund sea. We wandered around a bit & contemplated an old conch shell, its corners worn smooth--it looked petrified, prehistoric & I begin to think how we have histories of our civilizations but the reef & the fishes around it don't. All we see when we snorkle or SCUBA are brief glimpses, we don't know the narrative of the coral ramparts of the reef here on the the Silks--the interplay of weather, water, stone, & fish.

The Silks are three cayes arranged in a delta w/the vertices pointing North, West, & South. They are beautiful, almost stereotypical, save for the little bit of trash on the one we're on. After Danny speared three good-sized hogfish for us we two snorkled off the reef. On the outside it's about 30 feet deep--really deeper than I've seen w/my own two eyes--that's the thing about snorkeling, what we see on the surface is so completely different from what we see under water--it's a fair kingdom of brightly colored inhabitants & massive fortresses w/delicate hanging gardens of fan coral. It's astoundingly otherworldly--I know how an astronaut would feel if he set foot on an inhabited planet.

For dinner I cooked up the hogfish in tomatoes, onions, habanero, soya sauce, a dash of lime--A-OK, the boys were satisfied.

Posted by erich at 12:12 PM
Pumpkin Caye [11 April 1994]

More from my Belize travel journal

After a hard paddle against the prevailing Northeasterly wind we arrived at Pumpkin Caye whose sole inhabitants are a dog "Dash" and the caretaker "Shaky"--he's a deformed elderly man who scratches out a lonely existence on this craggy little island. We spent the day there at my behest--I found the wind hard going& frustratingly slow & the thought of another 5 or so miles wasn't something I had any desire to undertake.

Treally, the rest of the day was lost to me--I had a touch too much sun and was put out w/a headache & some nausea.

After making dinner for the boys I went straight to bed.

Posted by erich at 12:04 PM
Ranguana Caye [10 April 1994]

As the sun makes its leisurely, orange-tinged descent down the horizon, I reflect on our first day in the cayes.

It seems that bumpy rides are the theme of this trip--after packing we took an hour long skiff ride to our present location. Closer into Placencia we had a 3-4 foot chop that was truly kidney and gonad shattering. It was a thrill though. We finally arrived at a reasonable approximation of paradise--sandy beaches, wind-bent coconut palms.

I had my first introduction to snorkeling here and it was honestly an introduction to a world I've never known. It is still strange to me that you can breath and look underwater at the same time. Sometimes I'd find myself holding my breath forgetting that I didn't have to.

Even though the coral here is modest in comparison to the Silk Cayes according to Danny, I saw a lushness in both flora & fauna that I've never been able to perceive in such little space.

The light's failing now so I'll stop.

Posted by erich at 12:00 PM
Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary Jaguar Reserve [9 April 1994]

Further transcription of my Belize travel journal

After riding through the waste of a banana plantation, we entered the forest--it was only a secondary rain forest that has grown up over an old logging area but it provided some introduction to the abundance of rain forest here.

The ride there was an amusingly bone-jarring trip in a beaten Chevy van all spot-welded together. Its driver, our guide Ellis, is a wiry fellow w/a huge mop of hair and particularly musical Creole accent. He emphasizes each consonant equally "There's a fucking sol-it-ary eagle." His eyes are sharp, he can be cussing & jiving away swiping the van back and forth on the dirt roads & spot a toucan up in a tree at 200 yards.

Along w/us are two sunbrowned and attractive American girls--one blonde, one brunette. I didn't speak with them much--they seemed young, a young Placencian fellow brought them along, apparently the brown-haired one is his girlfriend & I wonder about the pretty American girls you find in places like these, smoking their cigarettes, diddling the young locals--I find it all a bit alluring but I don't really understand it.

Ellis shows us leaf-cutter ant trails, how you can use the soldiers to suture wounds together, the amazing variety of flora: custard apple trees, rubber trees, philodendrons, heliconias, birds of paradise. I admire all these & I xxxxxx xxx xxxxxx xxxxx xxxxxx xxx--xxx xxxxxx xx xxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx x xxxxxxxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx. xxxx, xxx x xx xx xxxxxx x xxxxxx xxxx.

After an equally bone-jarring ride back (1.20 hours), we drop off the Serenity girls (that's where they are staying) & motor home to pick up the bread (15 loaves) for the trip to the cayes. The lady who makes the bread is a cheerful giggly lady called Miss Lydia who cheerfully hands us our bread in here cheerful kitchen, we also get some cherry pops wrapped in cellophane from her--mine ruptures and I drip red juice all over myself.

For dinner, we join the Millers, John, his dad Harry & John's blonde (in all the connotations of the term Colleen) girlfriend. Oddly enough, all the way in the Carribean I'm eating a respectable plate of Chicken Chow Mein seasoned w/the local Habanero sauce.

The Millers are eminently practical men--the father was a forest ranger, the son a marketing instructor in the local college business school (Chico State). They've been in Belize for 2 weeks hence. They drove down in a non-stock 4-wheeler pickup truck w/a camper, a motorcycle and a powerboat. Both are husky fellows w/jolly but disciplined temperaments. Alot of common sense, and the facility to repair just about everything in sight. They love telling stories & you learn a lot by listening because they have encountered so many mechanical problems & such & have found solutions for them.

Posted by erich at 10:26 AM
Placencia, Belize [8 April 1994]

Further transcription of my Belize travel journal

A day of decompression & reminiscences of high school days. A lot of it was spent on the beach looking across the ble-green waters to the cayes moored like fronded ships in the distance. Danny & I talked a lot about the people we remember, the things we did back in Durham. Belize, unlike Alaska, is spacious--the sky is a wide blue bowel w/massive fortress-like clouds scudding through it. This spaciousness is amenable to expansive thoughts & remembrances--& I'm beginning to think that I might need to spend more time out & w/the water w/a mint-green bow streak behind me. Maybe I should do the Mariner's school.

Part of what I want in a xxxx is a window into another world of preception, & since I haven't found that (FK's control xxxx xxxxxxx seems now so insular & self-conscious), I'll take the world & ocean & sky as that--maybe I should have started with that.

I'm getting a better sense of the town & its cluttered ramshackle ways--there's little need for propriety, its utterly casual, loping along the boys I see, a little buzzed, taking what it can get. So far I'm loving it.

Strangely, K's being a bit linear & I'm being a bit loopier (a reversal of what I expected, maybe I'm mellowing).

Posted by erich at 10:09 AM
Placencia, Belize [7 April 1994]

A transcription of my Belize travel journal

After a satisfying dinner of conch fritters and pork chops, esconced in a hammock w/the Carribean breeze blowing the sand flies away, it's difficult to wrap my mind around the fact that I was stuck in the quotidian rhythms of medical school, & here I am on a sandy, palm treed spit of land, pointing out, like a little finger into the heart of the Carribean.

Placencia is a little town of shanties nestled among the coconut trees. Life appears as easygoing as the cadences of the creole spoken here. Children wander the street in droves carrying smaller children.

The people here are attractive--some unusual mix of pirate and slave--they amble among the trees, you can see them cooking in their stilt-legged homes; when you say hello they say "OK". A simple affirmation of a simple life.

It's our first afternnon & evening, & I'm appreciating the distance from the internecine pressures of school--my only goal for now is to live happily, secure in my knowledge that the only obstacle to this goal is myself. It's to juice myself up after the slow leakage of the last couple of months.

Posted by erich at 09:59 AM
December 19, 2003

My desk faces southwest and sunrise is washing a hazy peach ribbon across Chapel Hill's heights. Logically, it's all the sun's angle on our latitude, and the refraction and reflection of light with dust and moisture in the air; but how unsatisfying is this reduction--no justice to the miraculous concoction of scattered light that makes that roseate glow, or how the subtle breeze stirs the netting of bare tree limbs that frames this sight.

And it happens every day.

Three hundred and sixty-five times a year it arrives like clockwork, unheralded; also, at least 365 times a year someone spills their milk, helps someone across the road, cuts someone off in traffic, makes a new friend, loses another. The earth keeps spinning, the planets keep aligning and disaligning. As they say, life goes on.

So every day, even with the miracle that is a sunrise, you hope for something different, something that heightens things beyond that constant spinning. At the same time, when this doesn't happen, as unfortunate as you may feel, you have to tell yourself that Apocalypse won't occur suddenly, the glaciers won't melt, Hatteras Lighthouse won't sink into the sea.

The proposed design for the Freedom Tower in Lower Manhattan. Herbert Muschamp writes that it's better than we have any right to expect from a compromise collaboration--let's hope so.

It's a paradox I suppose, but we're a hopeful species that yearns for something miraculous while living our lives among miracles we stop seeing.

Explanations are often unsatisfying the same way equations of particles and light explain away a sunrise. At work, I seek them, but acknowledge that even a good explanation doesn't necessarily get to the heart of the matter. In spite of this, when it comes to breast cancer, I don't stop.

On the other hand, when it comes to your life, you oftentimes must stop. I used to keep on searching for explanations, but found that only breeds dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

So I'll stop here.

At the same time, I regretfully accept that the earth keeps spinning.

Posted by erich at 09:36 PM
December 07, 2003
Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit

"Someday, perhaps, the memory of even these things will be pleasant"
--from the Aeneid (no doubt this should the motto for internship!)

Thinking of happiness again. After a week adjusting to the new milieu of Durham Regional, I looked forward to settling in at a table at Foster's. After two cappucino's and the omelet special around noon, a sour-faced lady suggested I leave because "we ask that you not study on brunch days" and that there were people waiting (incidentally there were free tables and undergrads scattered throughout...studying).

I left not having the energy to argue.

To pump my spirits up I read parts of A River Runs Through It to myself. What a jewel of a book.

Posted by erich at 05:22 PM
December 01, 2003

Yesterday constituted my last day in the Durham VA Hospital. I've come to know and respect many of my patients there, but the VA is a taxing place. The paperwork demands there intrude on patient care rather than facilitate it; and, well, it's a government agency.

My hopes that my Sunday would be uneventful never came to be. Suffice it to say that I got perhaps 1.5 hours of sleep.

Worse, I was informed that in spite of my being post-call, I was to report first thing in the morning to Durham Regional and scrub in a case. Being sleep deprived and worn down by the frictions of the VA service doesn't exactly spawn much enthusiasm for being required in an OR across town the next morning, but I went.

Once in though, everything else just melted away. It was just the beep of the monitors, the sound of the bipolar cautery, the ratchet-click of clamps, the simple satisfaction of tying knots. Yes. This is why I chose surgery.

Posted by erich at 07:56 PM