No Matter What Changes, I’m Home In Downtown Fort Worth

I wrote the following post a few months ago for a contest. The prize was something I didn’t want very much, so I didn’t win. At least, I guess I didn’t. They said they’d let me know. They didn’t. Now, you get the post — and I don’t get a prize.

After growing up in a small town near Fort Worth, I moved to an apartment on Camp Bowie as soon as I could. (Living downtown wasn’t even really an option two decades ago.) For me, identifying with Fort Worth rather than my small town roots was a choice.

Then the need for cheap housing sent me packing to Parker County more than a decade ago. But I still consider myself a Fort Worthian. This town is where I spend my money, spend my time and live my life.

Downtown is a great destination in its own right for many reasons – and when there’s nothing else to do or see in town or you don’t want to spend much money, there’s always downtown Fort Worth. You can explore the galleries or shops like a tourist, marvel anew at the Water Gardens or simply choose a restaurant patio where you can enjoy an afternoon or evening.

And as someone who likes to walk for exercise, the streets of downtown provide a nice occasional alternative to wandering around in a park, on a trail or at the mall.

Perhaps downtown Fort Worth’s best asset is its abundant free and cheap parking. When I’m on a weekend trip to Austin, San Antonio, Oklahoma City or some other distant and exotic locale, it’s always amazing to me how hard it is to park. How can I access what the city wants me to see and do if I can’t even park?

No matter where I go, it’s always good to get home to Fort Worth.

Like so many people who are from small towns around here or who have chosen to live outside this city’s limits for the space or the value, I call Fort Worth home because that’s how it feels. It’s hard to imagine how it could feel so special to me without such a diverse, interesting, walkable, accessible and ever-improving downtown.

I may sleep in Parker County, but I live in Fort Worth.

Gip Plaster identifies so strongly with Fort Worth that he calls himself the Fort Worth Copywriter, and you can find him online at fortworthcopywriter.com.

A Uniquely American Evening When Fear And Scarcity Seemed To Fade Away

What’s your idea of a pleasant evening in America?

I don’t watch reality television shows or participate in politics. I don’t spend hours endlessly looking through celebrity Twitter feeds or trolling Instagram. I even limit my time on Facebook.

Further, I’m not very patriotic. I’ll never fly an American flag because I don’t believe America is better than other nations or that my way of life is superior to another.

But I enjoy having unique experiences that make me feel good about myself and about the world. I like feeling proud to be part of the human race.

Yesterday evening in Fort Worth was a good one for me – something that’s perhaps only available f

or experiencing in today’s America.

It started at Chadra Mezza and Grill, a restaurant owned by a Lebanese couple where there’s pizza, pasta, gyro, hummus and Greek salad on the $8 Wednesday night buffet. There’s a beautiful patio where some men were enjoying a hookah and a family was enjoying the food. Inside, we ate plenty – and so do did the Catholic couple who prayed before their meal and then made the sign of the cross before eating lots of cucumbers, pita chips and mahummara.

One older woman enjoyed three plates of food while her husband worked his way through a single piece of pizza.

When we were done with dinner, we made a conscious effort to see what everyone else was doing by visiting Sundance Square Plaza downtown. There was a private party in progress apparently celebrating American Airlines and their new service to China.

We were surprised to see American success story Luke Wade headlining the party, and there was plenty of room for the public to have a seat and watch. Luke is a small town boy like me, and he has overcome physical illness and injury to find success, thanks in large part to, ironically, a reality show.

While he sang, Chinese businesspeople passed around cowboy hats, at fancy food from the Reata and stood around taking it all in. And people of all kinds stopped to sing along with the music and dance a bit.

One group of women particularly liked Luke’s version of “Lean on Me”.

In a shelter at the back of the pavilion, a group of young people played cards. A few tables over, a young man sat down facing Mecca and said his evening prayers. A few minutes later, his friends did the same thing. I was pleased to see that, especially since I had seen a Bible study group in that same shelter a few months ago. It just seemed right.

At the restaurant and the plaza, I was among people who were enjoying themselves and each other.

As the show ended at the plaza, the Muslim guys headed to the same parking garage where we parked. And we all went on with our lives here in America.

It made me feel proud to have a great experience in a great American town. I didn’t see any flags.

And it enhanced my experience to see that others of diverse background, religions and ideas were enjoying the same evening in the same town – doing pretty much the same things we were.

Today’s America makes that uniquely American evening in Fort Worth possible. Freedom allows diverse people to come together and share their interests at the points where their interests touch and cross over.

Today’s America is a place where everyone can do what they like and others have no reason to interfere, judge or feel limited. It’s a place where there’s plenty for everyone and no reason to feel scared or concerned when others get their share too.

For me, being free in today’s America trumps everything else.

7 Things I Never Knew I Would Have

There are more than seven, of course. But these are the first things that came to mind. These are seven of the things I have that I never really thought I would.

Life takes mysterious and interesting turns all the time. As I’ve navigated the ride of my life, I’ve picked up:

A tablet computer. Don’t I sound old calling it a “tablet computer” instead of just a tablet? The original version of the tablet computer came and went in the late 1980s and early 1990s. No one found much need for one. Today, I own a simple $80 tablet I picked up at an electronics store. I can download YouTube videos and read Kindle books with it, and that’s all I need to do. I don’t have an iPad or anything fancy. That just wouldn’t fit my personality — or my budget. Besides, I do my real work on an old-fashioned desktop computer.

A George Foreman grill. I rarely give in to consumer pressure, but I wanted a George Foreman grill because I’d read how you can make great grilled vegetables using one of these machines. And supposedly, hamburgers take half the time as in a skillet. The problem is that I don’t like my food pressed down and dried out, and skillet cooking is actually quicker in many cases. So I’m having trouble figuring out what to do with this

well-regarded and carefully promoted device.

A beard trimmer. Who knew I’d ever be able to grow a respectable beard? It took a while. Every guy owes it to himself to get the best stubble trimmer, best beard trimmer and best hair clippers available. When I was a kid, stubble wasn’t in, but things change. Attitudes change. The large number of attitude shifts since I was a kid extend far beyond facial hair — and that’s a very good thing. Plus, my writing work has involved researching stubble trimmers more times that I care to admit.

A Weed Eater. I always assumed I’d live in an apartment in town. But when the rent on the apartment we lived in for 11 years went up by more than $100 a month, we decided to try out the semi-rural life. We spend just as much time in the heart of the city as ever, but we sleep a few miles outside the big city. And after more than a decade of that, I’m ready for something else. The weeds are taking over the house anyway — because although I have a string trimmer, I don’t use it very much.

A stable of websites. I can never remember how many websites I have, but I think it’s 21 or so. Each of them makes me money in one way or another. Many of them are Amazon affiliate sites, but one of them — Fort Worth Copywriter  — is simply a site that tells people I’m a writer. I haven’t been actively promoting it for very long, and it’s already brought be a few writing clients.

A writing career. I never thought I’d make it as a freelance journalist, but I did for a while. Then when I returned to writing a few years ago, I never thought I’d make it as a web content writer. But I have. It’s a great feeling to work every day doing something I really enjoy — and something that improves the world. Many websites need much better content than they have now, and I can help with that.

A good life. I never really saw much future for myself. But armed with my George Foreman grill, 21 websites and my clunky little tablet, nothing can stop me. That may not be exactly what you require for happiness, however.

Your life probably involves many things you never thought you’d have either. A bit of unpredictability makes life interesting, doesn’t it?

One of the keys to a good life is to shed the people and things that weigh you down and fill your life with things that matter to you. That’s not something to be taken lightly and is, in fact, serious business.

My Everyday Or Pantry Chocolate Cake Recipe — Perfected!

Since discovering a recipe for an everyday chocolate cake in an old Everyday Food magazine, I’ve made it several times. But it never seemed quite right. Unless you add frosting, the cake never seemed to have much going for it.

After some experimenting, however, I’ve come up with an everyday chocolate cake recipe that you can make from things you probably keep in the house — with no milk, eggs or refrigerated ingredients. In fact, depending on how you feel about sugar, this could even be considered a vegan recipe.

And since you mix it right in the baking dish, there’s less cleanup than with most cake recipes.

Here’s the simple recipe:

Preheat over to 350 degrees.

Whisk the following ingredients together directly in an 8-inch square baking dish:

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/3 cups sugar
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Once combined, push the dry ingredients to the outside edge of the dish and add the following to the middle:

6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 cup cold water

Using a whisk and a spoon if necessary to get into the edges, combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients until a relatively smooth batter forms. Then cook for 35 minutes. Cool before cutting.

Here are a few tips:

  • It’s essential that you cool this cake before serving it, and it will stick to the pan a bit.
  • If this version still isn’t sweet enough for you, you can make an icing or use a canned icing. You can also drizzle with chocolate syrup — preferably one without high fructose corn syrup.
  • If your vanilla extract is a good brand, you may not need quite so much of it.
  • Keep in mind that this isn’t a decadent restaurant-style cake, nor is it a diet recipe. But it makes for a good dessert to have a couple hours after a quiet dinner at home. And it won’t leave you feeling guilty.
  • This recipe makes excellent muffins. Just decrease the cooking time and add chocolate chips, peanut butter chips or nuts, if you like.

So there you have it. A simple pantry chocolate cake you can have at your home every day. In fact, you probably have everything you need to make it right now.

And since there’s essentially no cholesterol or animal products, there’s no reason not to have a second slice.

The Quick Green Chile Stew Recipe That Time Forgot

It’s interesting how some things that I thought I’d put on the Internet years ago never actually found their way into cyberspace. Fortunately, I never delete anything that I create, so lost-in-time items like this one are always around when I remember to introduce them to the world.

My simple and quick green chile stew recipe was created in an attempt to duplicate and perhaps improve upon the version of this dish served at Pancho’s Mexican Buffet, a mostly defunct chain of mediocre Mexican food places. (Only a dozen or so loosely connected locations remain.)

While much of the food at this chain was lackluster or worse — accounting for its disappearance from most markets, I’m sure — the green chile stew was uncomplicated and very good. And I suppose it still is at the remaining locations. I haven’t actually been to one of the chain’s restaurants in years.

So here’s the recipe. With nothing to do but brown some meat, cut some potatoes and open some cans, you can have this ready for dinner in 30 minutes or so.

Quick Green Chile Stew

Brown in a stew pot:
1 pound of pork stew meat in some olive oil with salt and pepper

When done, add:
6 ounces (½ bag) frozen seasoning blend vegetables (onions, bell peppers, celery, parsley)

When cooked through, add:
1 can mild Hatch green chile enchilada sauce
1 can diced tomatoes (do not drain)
1 can chicken broth
1 can water
4-5 medium potatoes, diced in chucks small enough to fit on a spoon
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt

Cover and bring nearly to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are done, about 15 minutes.

Allow to reduce without lid for 5 to 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning, if necessary.

Here are a few notes that may help you in preparing this recipe:

  • Those are 14.5-ounce to 16-ounce cans, so adjust accordingly if you get your products in different sizes.
  • If you can’t find anything called “seasoning blend”, just use onions. Or make up your own collection of aromatic veggies to add to the soup.
  • If you can’t find pork stew meat, you can cut up a pork roast or pork country style ribs. The recipes tastes great with chicken or beef as well.
  • Potatoes don’t freeze well, so I don’t recommend freezing this stew. But it’s great after a few days in the refrigerator.

So there you have it: my long-awaited green chile stew recipe.

It’s actually better than the version that Pancho’s served, as it should be. When you’re trying to copy a recipe, you owe it yourself to make it better. While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, I’m not trying to flatter anyone. I’m trying to make good soup.

An Evening In Fort Worth, Texas Without A Plan Can Serve A Purpose

When we’re out on the town in Fort Worth, we usually spend our time at events like plays, concerts and art openings. We rarely go out without a real plan. But we did twice last week, and both evenings went really well. What do you do when you don’t have a plan?

Last Wednesday, we started out with our usual walk and did some necessary shopping. Then David sold a few books at Half Price Books on Hwy. 183. Part of simple living is getting rid of things you don’t need, after all. The highlight of the evening was our first visit to Le’s Wok, a little Asian restaurant in a convenience store on the Near South Side with a great back story about the family who owns it recovering from an attack and competing with the newly opened QT convenience store across the street.

We picked up some cinnamon rolls at Esperanza’s on Park Place (where a sign says the parking is only for Ezmerelda’s patrons!) and then stopped by the Clearfork Food Park where there were two guys playing music and a private party of some kind in progress. We wandered on the river a bit and marveled at a big white bird. Then we finished the evening with some chocolate custard at Curly’s Frozen Custard on Camp Bowie. We should have had peach again, but I wanted something different.

We had no real reason to go out again the next night, but I wanted to. So we took back two of the things we bought on Wednesday that didn’t work and headed toward the Cultural District. We didn’t want to spend much money on dinner, so In-N-Out served the purpose. (Our current order is singles without cheese, mustard instead of sauce, add pickles and onions. I give David my tomato.) Then we strolled through the Amon Carter to have another look at an exhibit that we hadn’t enjoyed the previous week and see if we could make more sense of it. We did.

Next, we headed down Summit to check out the cramped newish Goodwill near Cleburne Road at Berry. After examining an ancient rice cooker and looking at a selection of DVDs that included a collection of Mormon sermons, we pointed the car toward Central Market. The goal was to get a piece of Italian cream cake to share for dessert, but somewhere between Tom Thumb and Trader Joe’s on Hulen we decided to have a dipped cone at McDonald’s instead, a good choice.

So what made these two evenings out so nice? They don’t sound very interesting, do they? They were opportunities to recover from the big experiences of life instead of actually being experiences in their own right. They provided time for us to unwind, let our sore muscles heal and clear our heads. And they were meaningful times together when no one else was looking.

In fact, maybe I shouldn’t have shared so much about our two uneventful evenings on the town. Some Fort Worth secrets are best left unspoken, I suppose.

But I want to make sure you never feel like you’ve run out of things to do. Instead, unplanned evenings out are times when you’re recovering from previous experiences and planning for others. There are concerts, plays, art galleries and, of course plenty of hours of work of one kind or another ahead of you. But why not put those out of your mind and stay in the moment? It might be a moment when looking at all the buttons on an old rice cooker is entertainment enough.

What Are Your Goals For Your Teeth?

I’ve been trying to find a good dentist recently, and that got me thinking about why I want to choose a new one. The one I went to last — years ago now — was competent enough, I suppose, but we don’t take the same approach to life.

And after I first visited him, I found out he is also a low-level politician. That turned me off.

Call me old-fashioned, but I’d like a dentist who is focused on his practice rather that on his political ambitions. But that’s not why I want to find someone else.

The political dentist from which I’m fleeing got off on the wrong foot with me the first time I visited him by asking the stupidest question I’ve ever heard from a professional: “What are your goals for your teeth?”

It was the first thing he said to me after telling me his name. Then he grabbed me by the forearm with both hands and shook me a bit, apparently avoiding the awkwardness of a handshake.

“I’d like to keep them,” I answered, perhaps too quickly.

Maybe he was trying to politely ask if I was interested in a whitening procedure since my teeth were looking a bit dingy. It could be that he was trying to ask if I wanted my crooked front teeth straightened. He might have wondered if I have some kind of higher ambitions in life and thought my average-looking teeth were holding me back.

But instead of asking me to honestly discuss what I expected of him, he asked me if I had any goals for my teeth

Truthfully, I returned to him a couple of times after that first cleaning appointment. But I never felt right about him or his practice.

When I visited last, he has upgraded to digital x-rays. That’s actually a smart idea, right? But he and his staff had also started wearing little headsets so they could talk to each other without actually looking anyone in the face. It seemed like something right out of NASA — or the Taco Bell drive-through.

Could it be that this dental practice was more interested in gadgets, gimmicks and aspirations than in cleaning and repairing teeth? Or am I just being old-fashioned and judgmental?

Whichever is the case, I really need a new dentist. This guy put me off medical people — more than I already was. I don’t like dealing with these kinds of situations anyway. And there’s nothing I dislike more than disingenuous, disinterested and dismaying people.

The only health professional I’ve seen since visiting this dentist for the final time a few years ago is an optometrist who prescribed me low power reading glasses. He didn’t ask me about my goals for my eyes.

Still, though, the optometrist wears a very strange toupee, and I wonder how well he can see if he wears something that looks like that on his head. But that’s a story for another time.

How To Make A Grilled Cheese In A Waffle Maker

I’ve been experimenting recently with how to make things in an electric waffle maker besides waffles. As it turns out, almost everything I’ve tried has been a success, and there’s no simpler way to make a really good grilled cheese than in a waffle maker.

Stay with me for a minute and I’ll tell you how to do it, but as with most everything else I write, there’s a bit of story first.

Other Uses For Your Waffle Maker

It all started a couple of months ago when I bought an Oster Belgian waffle maker. I can’t even remember what got me interested in having one, but since I don’t like gadgets and I don’t like having useless junk around, it took me a while to decide to buy one.

Then, I set out to find other uses for a waffle maker besides just making waffles. As it turns out there are many. The only thing that hasn’t worked very well is making brownies, but that’s a story for another day.

Any kind of bread can be cooked in a waffle maker — including canned biscuits and crescent rolls. And I’ve heard you can even reheat pizza — although I haven’t tried that yet.

While a waffle maker is sold as a single-use machine, it isn’t. It fits perfectly into my simple lifestyle and my strained budget.

Making A Grilled Cheese In A Waffle Maker

After some experimentation, I found that the best way to make a grilled cheese sandwich in a waffle maker is to slap it together and cook it for 90 seconds. That could be the end of the story, but I’ll explain a bit more.

My preferred way to make a grilled cheese has always been to butter two pieces of bread, then start toasting them butter side down in a hot skillet. I add two slices of cheddar or American cheese to one piece of bread, then put the other butter side up over the bread and cheese. Then, I smoosh — that is, squish them together with a spatula. A quick turn to make sure both sides are toasted evenly and the process is complete.

I tried using buttered bread in the waffle maker, but that just made a greasy and wet sandwich. I found that two slices of cheese between two slices of wheat bread (or something with a bit of sugar in it) works best. Smash the waffle maker closed slightly but not all the way and cook for a minute and a half. If your waffle maker is conditioned well, you don’t need any oil or spray.

That’s it. Process complete. And although I like a long story as much as anyone, there’s really nothing more to say.

Pledge Drives Are Disingenuous: Two Reasons I No Longer Donate To Public Television

For several years, I donated a few dollars every month to a local public television station. I loyally watched the British comedies and some other programs it broadcast, and I decided to donate because I benefited from the station’s services.

I no longer donate to public television, and there are two primary reasons I made this choice. Do you agree with my reasons? Should you?

I hope these points give you something to think about if you’re considering giving some of your hard-earned funds to support public television.

Here are the two reasons I no longer donate:

1. Public television is no longer in line with my values.

I don’t mean that the public television agenda is too liberal for me or that it promotes causes with which I don’t agree. I mean that I no longer live the kind of life where something as unimportant as television plays a major role.

My simple, deliberate life isn’t as restrictive as the lives of some who chose the simple path. I watch TV when it appeals to me, and I do so unapologetically. But it’s not very important to me. If it disappeared from my life, my life wouldn’t be any less compelling or complete.

TV is, at best, something about which I’m ambivalent now, not something that I want to support with my money.

Besides, most of what I watch on my television screen these days is on DVD, not broadcast on public television. So it’s just not that important.

2. Because of the way pledge drives are handled, public television often doesn’t do what it usually does.

Public television pledge drives are more frequent than ever before, and they’re handled is more intrusive — and less interesting.

On KERA, the public television station that serves North Texas, pledge breaks are no longer centered around regular programming and haven’t been in many years. They’re based around specials that attract a different, wealthier audience than the station’s regular programming. And increasingly, these programs are highly targeted health or self-help programs aimed at a very narrow but statistically significant group of givers

There are specials aimed at people with arthritis, programs for people with memory problems and things about hormones I don’t want to understand. There are special cooking pledge programs and shows aimed at teaching people to play hack piano. And of course, there are all those classic music specials.

These pledge programs focus on older people because old people are perceived to have more money to give away. But I think it’s disingenuous of public television stations to prey on older citizens for their money, then return when the money is secured to children’s programming and home repair shows.

I still watch public television when my local station offers something I want to see, but it offers fewer quality programs and I watch less TV than ever, so I find myself watching it less and less.

Still, I like the idea of public television in theory. And I suppose I’m glad it’s there to offer an alternative voice — a voice that is less influenced by advertisers, even if it is biased at times in favor of other groups with money.

Public TV is nice to have around. It’s just not an idea I care to support anymore.

Sure, I’ll Talk To You About Discontinued Deodorants

Want to have a conversation about all the brands of deodorant that have recently been discontinued or reduced in size? Sure, I’m up for that. But there was a time when I would have been very uncomfortable with that topic.

I think I was born with a misplaced or overactive propriety gene, but it’s effect on my personality has slowly been softening. I once shied away from any conversations about personal grooming, unpleasant bodily smells and other seemingly unseemly things.

In some circles, my aversion was enough to limit my ability to participate in the conversation. You have friends like that too, don’t you?

Today, no topic is off limits to me.

Why This Comes To Mind

Deodorants are on my mind because mine has been discontinued — as far as I can tell. I can’t find absolute confirmation that Arrid Extra Dry Clear Gel has been discontinued, but I’ve seen lots of evidence. A few people are talking about it online, and the product has disappeared from local Walmart stores and everywhere else I’ve checked.

There is apparently some major realigning of deodorants and the way they’re sold, and I’m caught up in it. The product I’ve used for more than decade is gone. And I would grieve for it if I didn’t have other things to do.

I’ve seen articles indicating that homemade deodorant is the way to go, but I’m just not ready for that. I’m not likely to smear on a cream deodorant either.

Signs Of Greater Ease

You may find this a mundane topic — and you may even find it slightly uncomfortable to read about deodorants. For me, however, this is a big step.

When I was a kid, I wouldn’t have entered into any kind of discussion related to personal grooming. It’s not that I found it embarrassing exactly, it’s just that I didn’t want people thinking about what products may or may not have been on my body at any given moment. Discussing foot powders, colognes and ointments was out of the question for me too.

Today, I’m fine with all of that. I think it’s a sign of greater ease with myself. I don’t know that I use the same products you do, but I’m relatively confident that no one is judging me for using one brand instead of another.

And even if you are, I just don’t care what you think. That may sound harsh, but this post wouldn’t have been possible if I still worried about people judging me.

In fact, most of my life wouldn’t have been.