Monthly Archives: December 2018

2018 in review

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As the year draws to a close, let’s look back
at a few (or a bunch) of highlights from 2018!

Favorite Foods of 2018

As my bathroom scale can attest, I love food — often to a fault. Food isn’t just a means of sustenance — it’s an every day celebration of cultures and flavors and pairs deliciously with friends and family and many happy occasions we celebrate throughout the year. In 2018, I picked ten special dishes to highlight memorable moments of eating throughout the year. If you’re not hungry now, you will be at the end of this list.

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#10 Ceviche

I recently learned how to make ceviche with a simple recipe involving freshly-squeezed lime juice and a white fish (usually tilapia). It was particularly easy to make but also very, very tasty. I put a bowl of this together for Cinco de Mayo last year and could have easily eaten the whole bowl myself. I never thought I could find something tastier than sushi that I could do with fish without cooking it with heat, but I was wrong — ceviche wins every time.

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#9 Ice cream layer cake

This was a fun treat for Father’s Day — a frozen chocolate cake with layers of ice cream woven in-between. This cake was particularly special because my kids helped to make it! I also regretted not taking a better picture of it — I actually put my “good” camera aside so I could enjoy most of Father’s Day without worrying about the pictures, but somehow I missed getting better documentation of this fun little dessert.

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#8 Super Bowl Food

In our house, the Super Bowl isn’t about the game. It isn’t even about the funny, memorable commercials. It’s always about the food — and nothing but the food. Nachos with gooey cheese and buffalo wings with blue cheese on the side especially make this day something to look forward to.

I also have a tradition of getting Hannah to pick the winning team, and so far she’s been four-for-four. I don’t know if she’ll pull it off again, but I know one thing — our whole family will be well-fed (and our stomach lining will be regretting it for days).

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#7 Garden Bruschetta

In my opinion, the whole purpose of having a garden in your backyard is to grow your own tomatoes — those ripe, succulent fruits with flavor you can’t buy in any grocery store. And one of my most favorite things you can do with tomatoes is turn them into bruschetta — with basil from out own garden as well along with fresh-chopped garlic and olive oil served in a toasted baguette. Sprinkle some shredded Parmesan on top and you have the best appetizer you can put in your mouth. There has never been an occasion where we’ve had any of this left over.

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#6 Chocolate liqueur cake

For Mother’s Day, I found a recipe for a chocolate liqueur cake online and decided to roll up my sleeve and try making it myself. It wasn’t terribly difficult, much to my relief. It came out moist and delicious, with quite a bit of the actual liqueur flavor coming through even after baking. I was particularly proud of this one.

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#5 Tiny cheeseburger from Golden Corral

I came upon this inexplicable morsel on Father’s Day. My dad wanted to go out to breakfast with my brothers for a morning full of fat, sodium, and calories down at the Golden Corral. The food was greasy and mediocre, but on the way out they started to bring out the lunch items, and this was one of them. I had just enough room to pop one of these teeny, tiny cheeseburgers in my mouth on my way out the door, and my goodness, it was delicious. The burger tasted flame-broiled, the bun seemed to be buttery and toasted, and the pickle just seemed to bring it all together in cheeseburgery goodness. It was by far better than anything else on the buffet, and I only wish we’d come for lunch instead.

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#4 Pete Ricketts’ steak fry steak

On a rainy September day, my dad and I headed up to Fort Calhoun for a steak fry with the Governor. I’d wanted to go mostly to rub elbows with four different governors and a handful of other VIPs in attendance (including patriarch of the Ricketts family, Joe Ricketts).

What I didn’t expect was that the steak at this fairly modest shin-dig would be really, really good. I couldn’t identify which part of the cow the steak came from, but it had been slow-smoked by the All-American Beef Battalion and seasoned with Walton’s out of Wichita. And it was darn good steak, too — far more tender than the cut would suggest.

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#3 Fazoli’s

Some of my favorite foods have more to do with the memories behind them than the food itself. After a fun night of dancing with some Jitterbug friends, I suggested we get something to eat at a nice Italian restaurant around the corner. Unfortunately, they were either too busy, too understaffed, or too indifferent to serve us anything. After half an hour of waiting , we hadn’t even gotten someone to take our order, and even the drink I’d ordered at the bar hadn’t made it to our table. I wasn’t terribly eager to pay $20+ for a plate of spaghetti, so I suggested we bail and wound up going to Fazoli’s instead.

Wow, what a difference. The food probably wasn’t the same “quality,” but we got it right away, paid a fraction of the price, and had unlimited bread sticks to boot. And believe me, after all that waiting, we were absolutely starving, and the pile of noodles with red and white sauce you see above was absolutely delicious. Naturally, the company of good friends made it even better.

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#2 Rib Eye Steak with Mushrooms

No steak in the world (or Omaha) beats Vivian’s steak. She sauteed it with butter using her cast-iron skillet and serves it up with fried mushrooms and garlic cloves, which go well either atop of the steak or on a baked potato (or both). Whenever Aldi has a deal on rib-eye, I make sure to pick up a bunch — both to cook right away and to freeze for later. This is my favorite dinner item any night of the week.

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#1 Jack Stack “Mom’s Carrot Cake”

Kansas City may be known for Jazz and Barbecue, but Jack Stack will always be known for the warm, gooey ecstasy that is its carrot cake. Vivian and Jenny discovered it by accident when a waiter found himself with one extra cake and decided to give it to them for free — they finished every bite and have been clamoring about it ever since. Mention Jack Stack, and they won’t talk about the burnt ends or the ribs — they’ll mention the carrot cake every single time.

Seriously. It’s served piping hot with cream cheese frosting melted on top, and you will savor every freaking bite. At the end, you’ll wonder why you bothered eating anything else that day when you could just have had this.

Christmas 2018

Merry Christmas, everyone! The Johnson had a lovely yuletide with the family, celebrating with presents and eating way too much food, per the norm (including tamales, Nachos Navidad, and the occasional graham cracker gingerbread house).

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We kicked things off on Friday driving around town and looking at Christmas lights on display. Wood River Drive had a lovely display that featured Santa handing candy canes out to those of us driving past. We went by Linden Estates up north as well, and Hannah and I dodged traffic and tour buses to get a close-up look at the glowing trees on Nicholas Drive. We swung by Aksarben Village to see the Stinson Park spire lit like a Christmas tree and then headed north to Memorial Park, lit up in red, white, and blue splendor. We finished off the night with the most elaborate display in town, which was ironically a few blocks from our house. Every year this thing seems to get bigger — I suspect the owners add a new bit ever season.

I burned a custom mix of traditional Christmas songs to keep us in the spirit all on our drive, which was a welcome change from the local “Christmas station” that plays mostly ads in-between non-stop loops of “Last Christmas,” “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime,” and other horrible earworms from Michael Buble and Mariah Carey.

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A few days later, Vivian and I celebrated our twelfth first date anniversary in downtown Omaha. We had plans for the night other than dinner, so we wandered through the near-frozen waterfront by the Gene Leahy Mall one more time and wandered by our favorite candy shoppe, where the candy man was busy making a chocolate cabin, among other things. We got our usual batch of Christmas fudge before heading back to have dinner at a lovely new Indian place we stumbled upon named Shahi (in what use to be in the O Lounge). Vivian and I stuffed ourselves with a dinner for two, which included a handful of appetizers, lamb curry and chicken tikka masala over rice and garlic naan bread, some tea for each of us as well as dessert (which we didn’t have room for).

We took one last walk down to our favorite bench just t say goodbye, as the city plans to destroy this lovely little spot in town and remodel it for a couple years. I for one will certainly miss it.

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I took a half-day on Monday and then head downed with Vivian and the kids to the four o’clock Christmas Eve service at Wildewood (dressed in our Christmas finery). I was somewhat surprised to find the place packed wall-to-wall, with only a handful of seats available and ushers hauling out rows of folding chairs for the near overflow crowd. A string quartet from the Omaha Symphony played music up front as the Pastor led everyone in a series of scripture readings, songs, and a skit revolving around Away in a Manger. We also had the obligatory candlelit singing of Silent Night (with glow sticks for the kids). Afterward, we were invited to put prayer requests on the “western wall,” as well as sending selfies to people we cared about. It was a ice little service, but if we return next year, we’ll have to be sure to come earlier.

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Back at the house, Jack and Donna came by to prepare a roast beef and potatoes for a Christmas Eve Dinner. After dinner, we introduced the kids to some Christmas Crackers, which they had fun pulling on to open with us but were somewhat underwhelmed at the prizes inside, which included a luggage tag, a tape measure, and a tiny picture frame, among other things. We settled the kids down for a long winter’s nap in their new Christmas jammies before hauling out a truckload of gifts fro the car to start arranging underneath the tree. We basked in the tree’s glow for a little while afterward and had some candy cane pie from Village Inn, which Jack had apparently been saving for weeks.

There was certainly something magical in the air this Christmas Eve. I was actually so impressed with the full moon when I took out the garbage that I let loose with a jolly “Ho ho ho” as loud as anything that might come from Saint Nick. Little did I know, however, that Hannah was still awake in her bed and bolted out of there in shock at having actually heard Santa Claus.

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Hannah, of course, could barely contain her excitement as Christmas morning approached and actually got up to peek in a few stockings (one for her doll) and set out her toys to watch the tree. Vivian and I eventually got up a little after six to have coffee and then Hannah hand out the presets as we slowly set about opening our gifts. Hannah got some toys based on character from a few of her favorite shows, and Aaron got a plush Kirby, a new sled, and a comfy new sweater. Both kids also got a pair of plush sleeping bags for sleepovers, the first of which they got to have in our living room at the end of Christmas Day. I got some new cargo shorts, a fidget spinner, and an ice bucket, among many other things, and Vivian got a giant Bible timeline, which well have to figure out where to put later on.

Sometime mid-morning I popped some quiche and banana bread in the oven, which I’d prepared in a rush the day before. We had a nice little Christmas brunch together (and mincemeat pie afterward) as a break from opening presents and then let the kids watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer before setting about opening stockings as the afternoon began to wind down.

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It was a rather pleasant 45-degrees outside, so once Jack and Donna headed home, I walked to my mom and dad’s house with Hannah and Aaron for a lovely Christmas Day walk. We got to open a handful of new gifts at my parents’ house, which included a Squirrel Girl for Hannah and a plush Mega Man for Aaron. I’d bought a bone-in ham for dad to cook in the oven, and we all sat down for some Christmas Dinner around six. We opened a few more gifts afterward, which included a Nintendo Switch from Uncle Nathan to Uncle Jonny. I borrowed it long enough for some soy face selfies and then let the two of them play some Smash Brothers as the rest of us packed up and headed for home.

I’ve got the rest of the year off now as I use up some accumulated vacation time at work, getting to do such mundane things as getting oil changes for our cars and catching up on laundry and housework. The end of the year is just around the corner, though. Stay tuned for a few of my highlights through the year as we close out 2018!


A full, unedited 36 minutes of Christmas.

Civil discourse and the Bush Train

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A few weeks ago, America said goodbye to the 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush. It was a relatively long goodbye, as even when the funeral was over the former President’s funeral train, the Union Pacific 4141, came to Omaha to be on display for a couple days. I was one of the many who stopped by to pay our respects last Wednesday up until the moment the whistle blew and pulled away. I was impressed with how many people came to pay their respects — people of all stripes, including one black man with an Obama hat (who got his photo taken in front of the train). It made me feel just a little better about a country that too often seems so divided.

Not long before his passing, I uncovered an old video my dad took when President Bush when he came to campaign at the Riverchase Galleria in Birmingham, Alabama. I was only 14 at the time but still vividly remember that day — particularly the long security lines and the rain that drenched everyone before the President spoke. Lee Greenwood himself was there to play music beforehand, and First Lady Barbara Bush was on stage as well. I even got a glimpse of Mrs. Bush through the window of the motorcade as it came by afterward. What I didn’t remember until I found this video, however, was that my dad had recorded highlights of the whole day, which you can see on YouTube.

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On Saturday morning, I got up early to attend an event hosted by the Free Speech Society down at the Omaha Bakery. There I got to watch a talk with William King, Kara Eastman, and Scott Voorhees on the Obama Legacy, along with a packed room of thirty or so other people. Eastman and Voorhees were predictably left-wing and conservative of course, while King seemed to straddle the line as a centrist, having supported Obama but just recently emceed Pete Ricketts’ election night victory party. The crowd as well had a healthy mix of left-wing people and staunch conservatives in the crowd talking about everything from Obamacare to climate change, to Supreme Court nominations.

While the discussion was lively, everyone was civil and nobody made any personal attacks, which was a refreshing change from online discussions. The best part, of course, came from a back-and-forth with Scott Voorhees and Tom Becka, with Scott remarking “I miss this” in the midst of it. I think what made the biggest difference was that everyone was required to listen to others as they waited their turn to speak, and that’s something that’s missing from our current conversation.

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That evening, Grammy watched the kids as we headed up to Jenny and Kody’s annual Christmas house party at their place up in Bennington. About a dozen of our mutual friends joined us there (and briefly the Simpson familyas we shared  Vivian’s vegetable medley and had some of Kody’s smoked ribs and chicken (and a dessert platter).

I wound up being a long night, as we played a round of Christmas trivia (which I won!) and then some 90s trivia followed by a round of two or What’s Yours Like. Kody also had a “sexometer,” some old gag gift from the 60s, which we all passed around and tried out. Of course, we didn’t leave without someone sneaking off and rearranging some of Jenny and Kody’s clothes to make interesting surprises in random spots around the house. I know this only because photographic evidence wound up on my camera. Ahem.

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It’s also been a lovely and warm couple of December days, which meant extra playtime with the kids outdoors. I took them for a trip to the park on Saturday, and I got some exercise pushing them on swings and on an X-Wave teeter-totter together.

Then on Sunday, the kids rode a tricycle in our driveway and Hannah made an x-marks-the-spot treasure hunt for Aaron and me to go on. We even took a walk to grandma and grandpa’s house in the wagon so Aaron could play with trains as we introduced Hannah once again to Mr. Bean (who played with a Nativity Set).

Next stop: First Date Anniversary and Christmas!

Singing, Shuck’s, and a Five-Year Plaque

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The Christmas traditions continue as we made our way toward the Big Day. On Saturday night, Vivian and I went to our fifth Pope Paul VI Institute Christmas Party, where I received my commemorative five-year plaque! This year’s party was at the Garden Café, so we enjoyed some comfort food as Institute veteran Terry Little played a medley of Christmas songs (along with songs from the Beatles and other artists thrown in). Terry produced videos for the Institute years ago and performed at its Gala celebrating Humanae Vitae’s 25th anniversary back in 1993. Christmas parties for the Institute are always kind of like homecomings, as many former employees pay a visit after retirement just to catch up with their old co-workers.

Special thanks to Uncle Jonny watching Hannah and Aaron.

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The next day, Grammy watched the kids as we went off to lunch to jointly celebrate my mom and dad’s birthdays at Shuck’s. My dad specifically marked the occasion with shrimp cocktail and a whiskey sour, which he’d enjoyed with a friend some 50 years ago in California (and likely hadn’t had since). I got a haddock basket as the rest of us filled up on seafood (and raw oysters of all things).

We spent a little more kid-free time at my parents’ house afterward, where my parents got their gifts — a copy of Jordan Peterson’s book for Dad and some new slippers, a puzzle, and candy for my mom. She somehow wears through a pair of slippers every year, so they have a perennial place on her Christmas list.

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Then that evening, Hannah got to participate in her very first Christmas program at Wildewood Christian Church. The youth there were able to put on a presentation of the Nativity story, complete with angels and even King Herod having roles. Hannah and the other kids sang a handful of songs (with motions), and it was the first time I got to see Hannah singing and participating on stage without standing stock-still looking terrified.

There were some cookies and crafts for the kids to enjoy afterward, so we stayed long enough to take part in that before heading home.

Two more weeks until Christmas!

Merry Murder Mystery

It now feels like the Christmas season is truly upon us, specifically because we now have a blanket of the “white stuff” all over everything. But first, other news.

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On Wednesday last week, the University of Nebraska-Omaha chapter of Turning Point USA brought their first speaker to campus — Anna Paulina, Director of Hispanic Engagement. She was joined by L. James Wright, deputy director for Congressman Don Bacon, to talk about how Republicans and conservatives can reach out to the Black and Hispanic communities.

It was a fairly modest turnout, but a good discussion overall. In the audience was Dr. Jonathan C. Benjamin-Alvarado, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at UN-O, and he seemed to give TPUSA a much warmer welcome that they received at that other University down the street, which was encouraging.

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Over the weekend, we got some more Christmas festivities underway, specifically finishing our decorations putting up the tree and getting it decorated with the kids. It was nice to bask in its soft, warm glow once again, and both kids seemed to be a bit more eager to help decorate the tree this year rather than take down and play with all the ornaments within reach.

We also brought out Santasaurus after a year in the garage to join in the festivities. Zoey the cat, on the other hand, seemed somewhat sad to lose her perch in front of the window.

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Then on Sunday, we got a fair bit of snow that turned Omaha into a white-frosted wonderland. It was a heavy, wet snow, which was thick enough to break my shovel as I tried digging Grammy out of her house.

The roads seemed clear enough, though, for us to continue to host the Christmas-themed murder mystery we’d planned with a handful of our friends. Because of the weather, several guests dropped out, but we still had enough left to put on our show, which was fun. We had people playing reindeer, elves, and Santa Claus all mixed up together with food and wine (and donuts) to go around. We also handed out prizes for the best costume, the best actor, the best sleuth, and the guest who took the most bribes (which was apparently part of the game).

It was lots of fun overall, but I feel terrible for our mutual friend Kate, whose car was hit that same evening by a truck that crossed the median on Highway 370. Everyone walked out of the accident fine, but her car may be totaled in the process, so please keep her in your prayers. (Thankfully, the driver who hit her has insurance.)