Nov 192017

On this date in 1969, Apollo 12 mission commander Charles “Pete” Conrad and lunar module pilot Alan L. Bean began just over one day and seven hours of lunar surface activity while command module pilot Richard F. Gordon remained in lunar orbit. Does anyone even remember their names, let alone what they accomplished?  Even if you are too young to remember the first lunar landing you can probably tell me that Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon. You might also be able to recall his first words on the lunar surface (although he muffed them). Being first at something (or being the best) gets immortalized. Being second tends to be forgotten. I want to take a moment to honor the not-so-famous seconds because being the first or best at something, while a great achievement, is not all there is in the world.

The landing site for the Apollo 12 mission was located in the southeastern portion of the Ocean of Storms. Unlike the first landing on the moon by Apollo 11, Conrad and Bean achieved a precise landing at their expected location, the site of the Surveyor 3 unmanned probe, which had landed on April 20, 1967. That’s right; they were better at landing than the first guys, but no one remembers that. Actually, they felt a lot more human to most of us who watched the landing than the first guys. Apollo 11’s lunar module was named Eagle (giving us “The Eagle has landed.”) – all very macho and patriotic. Apollo 12’s module was named Intrepid, which is a bit more toned down, and when Conrad, who was somewhat shorter than Neil Armstrong, stepped on to the lunar surface, his first words were “Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long one for me.” Armstrong’s remarks were quite clearly scripted and rehearsed, but Conrad’s were off the cuff.

So, what about those unfamous seconds in history? Care to take a quiz?

Who was the second president of the United States? Who was the second prime minister of England (if you can remember the first)? Who was the second person leading a partnership to climb Mt Everest? (And . . . what is the second highest mountain in the world, and who scaled it second?) Who was the second astronaut to orbit the earth?

You get the point. Being second at many things should not diminish their importance, nor the challenges involved. What is it about firsts and superlatives anyway? Why was there a race to the moon in the first place? Obviously, the Cold War and the use of rocketry for intercontinental weaponry were the backdrop. The US began the 1960s way behind the Russians in the Space Race. The Russians had put the first object in orbit and subsequently the first man in orbit. That led JFK to lay down the gauntlet in 1961 challenging NASA to have a man on the moon by the end of the decade – leading the US to have the first crew on the moon in 1969, and a second there before year’s end. These facts lead many people to argue that competition is good because it spurs results. But does it? Is it not possible that co-operation, sharing of ideas and technology, can achieve similar results? Westerners don’t like the idea of sharing much, it’s true. But competition may also encourage haste which can be counterproductive. The Apollo Program suffered a major setback in 1967 when the entire crew of Apollo 1 died in a cabin fire during a pre-launch test because they did not have a properly designed hatch to escape through when the fire started. Haste to be first in the competition can cost lives.

I would have been overjoyed if I had won a silver medal in the Olympic Games for the 400 meter sprint when I was a young man. I ran in the county games as a schoolboy, but that was as high as I ever ranked. What’s wrong with that? In fact, I would have been overjoyed if I’d run in the Olympics at all. Achievements are undervalued when you start ranking them. I know there are plenty of people who will disagree with me, and that’s fine. If you think being first, biggest, best is really important – have at it. I’ll take today to honor those who came in second.

Nowhere for me is the ludicrousness of first and second place winners more evident than in cooking contests. I used to watch cooking shows like Iron Chef, Master Chef, Cupcake Wars, Top Chef and the like all the time when I lived in the US. They were about the only shows I watched. I’m tired of them now, but they held my attention for a time. I wasn’t interested in who won or lost, but I was interested in the recipe ideas.  To make the point I searched the internet and came up with this site: It’s from a chef’s blog and he focuses on dishes that entered competitions and came in second. This competition is run by Bella Sun Luci products, and you can find a mountain of such sites promoting commercial products. The blog owner writes:

We LOVED this dish! It was the first runner up…. It’s really well balanced…a ‘whole greater than the sum of its parts’ I like to say, which is the key to a dish becoming a classic. Flavors and textures taking the senses on a journey. Healthy components, as they fit into the Mediterranean Diet, are key. Spinach for example, and farro is healthier (easier to digest, the gluten is water soluble) than other kinds of wheat.

Sounds like a winner to me.  I have not tried it yet, but I will one day. My trouble at the moment is that, living in Cambodia, getting hold of farro is difficult. Farro is heirloom wheat. Here’s the recipe verbatim from the website:

Farro with Sausage and Sun Dried Tomatoes


1 jar 8.5oz  Bella Sun Luci Julienne Cut Sun Dried Tomatoes in Olive Oil and Italian Herbs
1 lb. Sweet Italian Sausage
1 cup Farro
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic
10 oz. baby spinach
Splash of balsamic vinegar
4 oz. goat cheese
Parmesan cheese to taste


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Drain the sun dried tomatoes, reserving the oil. Brush the sausages with the oil and place on a roasting pan. Roast for 30 minutes, flipping them over halfway until cooked through.

Prepare the farro according to package directions.

Coat a skillet with the olive oil and sauté the onion over medium heat until translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic, sauté 30 seconds. Add the spinach and cook until just wilted. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar to the mixture. Mix in the sun dried tomatoes. Slice the sausage and add along with the farro and goat cheese and mix until combined. Top with Parmesan cheese and enjoy!

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