Greg Boone

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Pumpkin pie 2021 (part 2 Thanksgiving)

It’s funny how working outside your own kitchen can throw me off just a little bit. Tools aren’t where you expect them to be. The refrigerator is plenty cold but somehow the butter feels not chilled enough. I’m cutting in the butter but it doesn’t look right. The oven is hot enough but it feels like the pie is taking too long. It’s all in my head and it’s just enough to yield unexpected results.

For Thanksgiving this year we were at Nancy’s new house here in Milwaukee. Of course, László woke up Thursday morning with croup, which threw us all off and scrambling the day of and sent me to the hospital’s pharmacy to pick up his medication. Once we were set and cooking, we constructed a pretty excellent meal for the four of us.

From my last post, I tried the steeping method of infusing cinnamon flavor into the pie filling and I was not disappointed with the results. For whatever reason my crust did not want to come together, nor roll out, nor bake fully on the bottom. Still, we had a good pie.

The pie was not the highlight of my baking this year. (I know, the title, bear with me.) It was Struffoli, a Neapolitan dessert involving deep fried dough balls, cooled and soaked in honey, nonpareils, almonds and dried fruit. This was much easier than expected to throw together, though it did take some time. Cook’s Illustrated (which is apparently my only cook book these days) has a great recipe.

If the dessert sounds decadent it’s because it very much is. For being deep fried, you might expect them to taste like doughnuts, but the texture we achieved was more like tiny bites of biscotti. A puffed, sweet, crunch that left us going back for more. A nice thing about them is they’re tiny so you can just grab one. And then grab another one. Then another one. Then why not three or four. OK maybe just one more. OK, this is the last one now.

If I have one addition to the recipe notes to use a light colored honey. Since honeys can taste different depending on what kind of flowers the bees were munching on, a mix of honeys could be a nice experiment. Light color is key, though, if only to make the plate more attractive and give it a bright and inviting look. It’s also possible a lighter color honey would help gauge whether it’s hot and cooked enough before dumping the dough in to coat them. I’d also use the trick in the comments to use a glass to help shape the wreath and avoid a big pool of honey in the middle of the plate. All that said, this is a keeper I’m excited to try again.

The method for these was pretty simple, but the dish was nonetheless complicated and time consuming. The dough is almost like a cake: flour, baking powder, sugar, butter. You ball up the dough and divide it roughly into six equal parts. With a scale and a ruler, I might have achieved a bit more uniformity, but I didn’t have either and the higgledy piggledy result added an extra element of fun. Divide the six dough pieces into (about) 60 each and you quickly have a pile of more than 300 balls of dough ready for frying.

The dough balls took a bit longer to fry than I expected — about 3 minutes or more to get a nice golden brown color — and I was a little worried I’d over done it. Trust the color, not your internal clock, and you’ll have good results. I didn’t time it, but I’d guess the 2 hours + 20 minutes of cooling is about right.

Next up: More pumpkin and Christmas bakes. Hopefully this time around my crust comes together a bit better.

Morning smiles

There’s a period of the morning, from about 7 until 9, when I get to hang out with László on my own. I usually wake up earlier and let Danielle catch a couple hours of baby-free sleep. It’s a time I cherish because Laci has a special face he only puts on when he wakes up.

It’s a mushy, tired smile, unforced and unintentional. During the day he smiles at things. He’s starting to choose to smile at things. But these smiles, they’re the kind he might try to hide if he gets older and decides he isn’t a “morning person.”

I’ve never taken a photo of these morning smiles. They’re fast, fleeting, and hard to predict, but I also haven’t tried. We photograph László a lot, and not having this documented in digital memory is a way of keeping this for ourselves. As he gets older, finds friends, and develops a private life, I think the memory of these morning smiles will take on a new meaning, a piece of our lives that only belonged to us and him. In the mean time, they’re something to look forward to every morning when we pick him up out of his bassinet to greet the day.

How insurance companies wear you down before providing benefits

This is a story that starts with a baby. We welcomed a baby to the family last Friday. Since he was late pre-term we were in the NICU for a few days before being finally discharged on Tuesday afternoon. Before we left, a lactation consultant at the hospital said we should check with our insurance company to see if we qualify for a free breast pump. Most insurance companies cover the purchase of a breast pump with a $0 copay which is great because we need one to help us feed our premature baby.

When I called the insurance company, they said there were providers online where we could order one and have it shipped to our house, and that it usually takes a few days depending on availability. They then sent me a list of in-network providers of “durable medical goods” (DMG) near me who I could reach out to.

This list had three vendors on it. Three. For all of Colorado. I called each of them: One didn’t supply breast pumps anymore. One was actually a Target CVS and was not an in-network DMG provider. The third said we would need to get a prescription from our doctor, fax it to them with proof of insurance, and it would be delivered to us within 7-10 business days.

I’d understand the hassle if a breast pumps were dangerous, like opiods, or hard to transport, like an iron lung, but you can buy literally any breast pump you want at any of the following stores, put it in your car next to the carseat, and go home and feed your baby: CVS, Wallgreens, Target, some grocery stores with large pharmacies, the hospital gift shop where our baby was born, any of the other hospitals in Denver, baby stores like The Mammahood, and probably a few other places I don’t even know about.  There are also zillions of them available on Amazon if you can wait a couple days. These are widely available commodities. It shouldn’t be such a hassle to get one to us.

I’d also understand the hassle of breast pumps were expensive, but they’re not. Our insurance will cover up to $165.04 and you can buy a pretty decent one for less than that! So why, then, does it take going through a medical supply company with a prescription to buy something that costs so little? Even if there’s a small amount of waste and fraud in the system, the costs of processing all of the paper work alone must balance out to more unless the insurance company is getting a hell of a deal on these pumps. Think about it, to get this breast pump so far has involved:

  • An hour of my time on the phone with the insurance company and the in-network providers who can fulfill this benefit.
  • Roughly an hour total of time spent by doctors, nurses, and medical assistants helping us issue the prescription and navigate the process.
  • Pump rental while we wait at an (admittedly affordable) rate of $4 per day. If the DMG provider takes the full 10 business days our total not-covered, out-of-pocket, not-FSA/HSA eligible costs will be $68-72.
  • Time spent processing the claim and prescription on the DMG provider and insurance company’s side.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median hourly wage for a general pediatrician is $90 per hour, $35 per hour for a Registered Nurse, and $52 for a Nurse Practitioner. Given these rates, and how many individuals in each of those professions we’ve talked to about this, it seems likely all of this totals more than $165 in total economic activity. All of this with no promise of any specific brand or type of product, leaving us consumers in the dark about what we might actually get. If we end up with a manual pump, for example, we’ll probably just go out and buy our own electric pump out of pocket.

A common argument against Medicare for all or single payer systems in the US is that private markets are more efficient and therefore provide lower costs. This a large, half-billion dollar insurance company has come up with is far from efficient and at some point consumers who can afford it will give up and buy their own out of pocket and those who can’t will either give up and pay more in rental costs or wait it out and eventually settle for whatever the PPO’s DMG provides.

There’s a much simpler solution if you cut out all the bullshit wrapped up in the business model of preferred provider network-dependent insurance companies. A single payer like Medicare could simply issue a coupon to us for $165.04 and obligate any retail store selling breast pumps to take it much like how grocery stores are obligated to accept SNAP benefits. Then, no matter where you live, or where or how you delivered your baby, you can redeem the benefit you’re entitled to with little economic friction.

Better yet, institutions like hospitals and birthing centers could simply give the mom a pump upon discharge and let CMS know. This option also reduces the risk for fraud because it has a built-in mechanism for verifying whether the person in question did in-fact need a breast pump.

Also, WTF is this $165.04 business. Just round it down to $165.

Open letter to Sen. Cory Gardner of CO

Dar Senator Gardner,

It’s a good thing your President bailed you out on taking action to end child separation. Despite the fact that he said it was only something Congress could do, he managed to end his own policy of separating children at the border.

I still wonder, sometimes, when I see children peacefully strolling their children in my NW Denver neighborhood, how you can sleep at night knowing you were complicit in allowing our government to forcibly separate children from their parents.

I wonder, when I see children with their parents hiking to an alpine lake, why you declined to put your name on Sen. Feinstein’s bill that was introduced while the President insisted his hands were tied.

When I see children waiting at the airport with their parents of to destinations where they’ll assuredly be allowed to stay together upon arrival, I wonder why you decided a letter to AG Sessions from 12 Senators would be more effective than a bipartisan bill sponsored by 50.

When I see parents drop their kids off at the preschool I pass on my way to work, I wonder what you’re doing today, what you did yesterday, and what you’ll do tomorrow, to reunite these families currently imprisoned by our democratic government. Families who are being denied their liberty.

When I see you brag about being the “8th most bipartisan Senator” I wonder what that means when you fail to reach across the aisle over something so fundamental to humanity — keeping children with their families.

I wonder if you truly believe that people would flee their native countries with their children, risking their lives and permanently abandoning their communities, property, and histories, just to come to our country and commit crimes? How far do you take this theory? Do you also believe asylum seekers are actors? Do you believe every individual attempting to cross the border is definitely a member of MS-13?

Are you aware that MS-13 is a gang that originated in the United States? Are you aware that the violence people are fleeing in Central American countries was originally intimated by the United States?

Coloradans are tired of your 12 senator letters. We’re tired of your acquiescence to the President’s cruelty and acceptance of his falsehoods. We need real action, Senator. We need legislation. We need the majority party to govern. And we needed it last week.

Sincerely,
Greg Boone

Getting ready for (almost) 100 miles

On Saturday I’ll be riding 88.6 miles around the Denver metro area. It’s part of the Denver Century Ride, an annual one-day cycling event with several distances, including a full century.

I’m riding with two friends who are also doing their first distance ride ever. I’m balancing nervousness and excitement, trying to keep in mind that even if it’s difficult, it’ll be a beautiful ride and will feel good once we’re done.

Training

I didn’t have workout plans with directions like “Do 2 X 20 minutes. Minutes 1 to 18 for each effort at 90-93% of your FTP”. In part, because a lot of these sites assume you know what FTP means and it wasn’t immediately intuitive to me. But more than that, it didn’t seem like an enjoyable way to prepare for a ride I intend to enjoy, not race.

Instead I did something closer to what Bicycling Magazine recommends and took my bike in to make sure I wouldn’t get any surprises on the road.

Long rides:

18 miles around NW Denver, April 27

Many of the longer rides I did were in NW Denver, Wheat Ridge, and Lakewood. The first one followed about 7 miles of the ride’s route into the area north of the Federal Center, I then circled around and came back on a familiar route along Garrison St. through Lakewood and Wheat Ridge.

19 miles on Clear Creek, S Platte River trails, May 4

This was a good endurance training route. It’s long enough that attempting to ride with minimal stopping and it’s built with some distance flexibility. Both trails meander along with convenient exits back into neighborhoods. On this particular route, I cut off on 15th St. to return pretty directly into NW Denver.

Total weekly mileage: 41 miles.

39.8 miles along the Century Ride route, May 12

One of my co-riders (teammates? we don’t have kits but we’re acting like a team) and I met at REI and followed the route we will ride on Saturday for the middle 40 miles, including a first attempt at the biggest climbs. I wanted to try to tack on the next 20 at some point but ultimately didn’t make it.

Total weekly mileage: 52 miles.

Red Rocks Amphitheater Park in the near background with Alameda Ave. in the foreground
Can you see Red Rocks?

40 miles in Seattle, May 20

I went to visit my brother the weekend of May 20 and took it a little easy on the training while I was there. I rented a commuter bike for the flexibility of using it for getting around and exercise. I think I’d probably spring for a road bike next time because I could really (for the first time) feel the difference in gearing and frame geometry as I rode. Still, it was a good, if exhausting ride, from Seattle to Snohomish.  I got in some sustained climbs over steep grades. It was also a beautiful trip through exurban Seattle that made me want to try the STP ride sometime.

A bike trail bridge in a verdant exurban area

27 miles meandering around the Boulder Tpke, May 24

In a funny looking ride, I found my way to the Denver-Boulder Turnpike trail and then wound my way back into Denver through the northwestern suburbs. This route gives huge views of the front range and was a great route to re-acclimate to the altitude.

Total weekly mileage: 37.6 miles.

Two weeks before the ride: 81 miles total

Two weeks before the ride I joined my friends or for a trip to Boulder. I think we all would have rode back to Denver if we had 1) started earlier 2) it wasn’t so damn hot and 3) we didn’t stop for a meal in Boulder. We were all pretty creaky by the time we got there but 34 miles was good training for all of us, and the climbing distribution is similar to how we’ll be climbing on Saturday.

The front range behind Boulder with bike handlebars in the foreground to the right

On top of that ride, I added a 24.5 mile loop around the South Platte Trail, looping into the Lakewood Gulch trail to get back into NW Denver, and an 18 miler similar to the one I did at the beginning of the month. I capped off the week with a 41 mile trip careening down Garrison St. through Lakewood to meet up with the Bear Creek – South Platte River – Clear Creek trails. This 41 miles I did largely without stopping and was racing the sunset. A+ ride, I highly recommend it.

Interval training

One thing I knew I had to get better at before the big ride was climbing, especially in short, steep bursts. I did one high altitude ride, attempting to reach Loveland Pass (on my birthday). I was really not ready for that kind of ride but I managed to make it about 6 miles up before I was out of water and time. Sure was pretty up there though.

A road turning right with a mountain range in the background

The more meaningful interval work I did was repeatedly riding up and over the Regis hill, starting at Lowell Blvd, and working my way west. It’s a little hard to describe concisely but the Strava map shows the short bursts of steep climbing spaced by longer descents and gentle climbs back up on the next block. These rides had the effect of pushing my heart rate and muscles for short periods spaced with long active recovery sessions. The last time I attempted this, I managed a PR on the climb back up Lowell which felt pretty great. I’m hoping it help with the more residential, suburban parts of the ride where the roads are steeper and often seem to have stoplights at the top.

Denver Food Rescue

It’s not about the training but it certainly helped my train: I started riding for Denver Food Rescue this summer. In total, I think I’ve hauled about a ton of food on my own bike, and in total, me and fellow riders have easily rescued 5 tons of food since I started in May. I think I carried about 300 pounds last weekend. Learn more about Denver Food Rescue and how to ride with them on their website! Here’s a picture of my DFR trailer loaded up last weekend.

A long bike trailer loaded with groceries
Please ignore the automobiles in the background.

Are we ready?

I’m as ready as I’ll be! I think no matter how many mile I logged, I’d still feel like there was one more ride I could have done to help me prepare. The ride starts at 6AM Saturday morning!