Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Reeces are back in town

Hey guys! Just came back from CA last night and wanted to get back into the swing of things here. This will be a short blog, as I'm still swamped at work. We had a great time on the trip, got to spend time with Jenna's family and some friends of ours out there, which was very cool. Got to play a new game called Wise and Otherwise, which we really enjoyed. We'll be picking that one up soon, for sure.

In other news, I lost my sunglasses at Disneyland. Lame! I freakin' loved those things.

Expect more details and whatnot tomorrow, hopefully.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Tailor and Shoe Repair?

Maybe it just shows how out of the loop I am, but am I the only one who is frankly astounded at how many tailor and shoe repair shops there are around? I think I've got no fewer than 5 of each within a 5-10 minute drive. Is that excessive? Do I just live in some kind of clothing/shoe hot zone?

In any case, we're having some of Jenna's pants hemmed. She's so small. I'm hoping this place does a good job for a good price, because I'm sort of in the market for a few tailoring projects, myself. I like fitted dress shirts, since I tend to wear them untucked, and I don't like to feel like a clipper ship under full sail when I go outdoors. Unfortunately, surprisingly few dress shirts in my price range (or more accurately, the range I am willing to pay for something as non-weaponlike as a shirt) are fitted. I'm also almost exclusively into solid-color shirts, monochromatic fellow that I am. So my options are not vast. However, if I have a tailor who can slim down the torso of my dress shirts for a reasonable price, I'm all for it. That, unfortunately, reminds me of the shirt that got away. I took it to the cleaner's and they sent it off somewhere and didn't have it back in time so I had to take one shirt without the other. Unfortunately, I totally forgot that it was there until very recently. I haven't stopped back in yet, but I left it there several months ago so I'm afraid they'll have gotten rid of it by now.

Wouldn't it be easier just to weave leaves into our body hair, like I did back in college?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Various Info

Did the steak-in-the-oven again last night with a 2:45 per side cook time and it came out significantly underdone, even after 10 minutes of resting under some foil. I think 3 minutes may be the magic number. I have two more steaks with which to attempt it, so we'll see if the 3-minute mark is the key. I'm also thinking that bringing the steak up to a bit higher temperature with a quick soak in warm water (inside a zip-loc, of course) may assist with getting it cooked through, beyond simply leaving it on the counter for a while. We'll see soon, here. I'm really hoping to have a very simple, consistent method I can follow without having to adjust every time. The steaks are quite consistent in size, shape and weight, so I don't they they even really count as a variable.

Also tried to run this morning in my old shoes. I stretched a bit beforehand, which I think will generally assist me, but I still had the problem. Greatly reduced, thankfully. It hurt, but not terribly. I warmed up for about 5 minutes and then stretched some more, which didn't seem to change the effect significantly. I'm thinking I may need to just slack entirely for a week or more to let everything settle down and heal completely before attempting this again. One thing I've noticed is that the shin splints are cumulative. If I run one day and end the run with a little pain, that's the starting point for the run the following day. If I rest for a few days, the pain still starts where it ended. I haven't determined my total recovery time yet, but I'm really hoping that I can get myself back to zero, strap on some new shoes, stretch before I run, and avoid the buildup. I'm still hoping cushy, neutral shoes will help the situation overall.

We're heading out of town this weekend to go visit Jenna's family. Calling them that seems odd, as I really think of them as my family, too. It's tough having them so far away, but we make an effort to get out to see them as often as possible. We'll be heading to Disneyland this trip, which will be really fun. The rest of our itinerary is up to the womenfolk, and I'll just be along for the ride. Definitely looking forward to some time off, though it'll be an absolute nightmare to get caught up at work when I get back (considering I'm already almost 2 weeks behind on the shiny new job they stacked on top of my old job). Whatever, right? Can't work all the time.

Monday, February 16, 2009

On Socks

Socks may not be worthy of much thought to the average person, but I have given them their due and have been rewarded in kind. This treatise may not apply to the women-folk, as their requirements are different from our own. However, I think the principles described herein will be of use to most people.

A man, in general, has no more than 6 colors of socks he will ever need. Most of us get by with 2 or 3. My own are black, khaki and white. The white are exclusively athletic socks, and the black and khaki work for all of my daily needs. Here's where we get fresh: why not pick a particular style of sock for each color and use that one exclusively? For me, the brand is Gold Toe and the style is Auro. Only available at Target, these socks are perfect for my needs and not too expensive to have a hefty load of them. They are available in khaki and black (probably others, but I don't worry about that) and in various heights and patterns. I picked one pattern, loaded up on it, and ditched all of my other socks.

The benefits are much greater than you would probably imagine at first glance. First off, I don't sort socks. I put all my socks into one drawer, unsorted, except perhaps to be clumped by color. Also, I don't match socks when picking them out. When a sock gets a hole in it, I throw out the one bad sock instead of sending a perfectly good sock along with it. If a sock gets eaten by the dryer, I don't have to throw away its perfectly functional mate. There is no mate. There is some kind of polyamorous sock fusion going on, and that is why this system works so well.

In the morning, you pick two black socks and they always match. You pick two khaki socks? They match. If you wanted to be extremely organized, you could split your sock drawer into several sections, depending on your sock color selection, and then there would never even have to be any digging to find two of the same color. I do have a few alternate socks that I will wear from time to time, but they aren't my daily stuff. They end up tucked into the back of the drawer and are only brought out when I wear a gray suit or something.

The main thing is that this removes all thought from dealing with socks. Your laundry is about as easy as it can get, because matching socks always takes an inordinate amount of time. Now you just pile them and toss them in a drawer. Seriously, it's worth looking into.

Weekend of Awesome

Before I get too deep into the awesomeness of this weekend, I'd like to make note of an epiphany I had.

When I decided to start running again back in May of last year, I went to a running store and got myself some new shoes. They didn't fit perfectly, but they were much nicer shoes than the old New Balance monstrosities I'd been wearing since high school for every vaguely athletic activity I did. I tried to run on the new shoes (Asics Gel-2130) and immediately noted the return of shin splints I had thought long gone. I decided I could fix the issue with a lacing change or different insoles. I got some insoles and they fit much better. I started running again and noticed that I kept having the shin splints issue and stopped running for several months. Somehow, all of this was completely lost to me until this weekend. Suddenly, I remembered the whole thing, all the way from me being at the running store telling the guy I used to get shin splints but don't anymore, to me trying to convince myself that the new shoes were totally awesome I just needed to break them in. Weird, eh? Anyway, now I totally remember and I think I need to go back to the running store again and see if I can find some shoes similar to the old beaters I used to wear. I think I've gotten more miles out of them than my last car, but they're still super comfy. They're a neutral shoe with a good bit of padding, and I think that's the way I need to go. So anyway, that's my proposed solution to this problem. I'll keep everyone updated on how this works. I'm also planning to get up tomorrow and run in my old shoes and see if they still have the same cushy goodness that was helping before.

Okay, on to my awesome weekend. Friday night, the wife and I stayed in and worked on Valentines for our gaming group. Yes, we're that geeky. We made a little valentine for each player out of felt and puff paint, and made it in some design that related to his or her character. It was a ton of fun coming up with the designs, making the valentines and then giving them to everyone. We also made a cake, which was sort of horribly ugly, but it tasted good so that's okay. I'm going to have to try several more cakes to get a good handle on it, I think. In any case, here it is:
It's so ugly it's almost cute, isn't it? It looks like a blind kind with a learning disability decorated it, and that isn't far off the mark, skill-wise. So you know, "STPF" stands for "Super Teen Poverty Force" - our group's unofficial moniker. While half our group is fabulously wealthy, the other half is miserably poor. My character was actually homeless at the beginning of the campaign, and rooted through dumpsters for food. We're also pretty young, with half the group being teenagers. Anyhow, it's too perfect a name for us to discount it for being only half accurate, and the cake reflects the level of awesome we bring to the world of crime-fighting. Hooray!

So the cake turned out poorly, but the game was very fun and jenna was suitably surprised when we got there and she had flowers waiting for her. I'm a sneaky husband. She had no idea there would be flowers and then there were totally flowers there! They're in our bedroom now, making it smell all nice. That was Saturday and it was a good day.

Sunday, I woke up and played Fallout 3 for a few hours while Jenna slept in, then we sort of lounged around watching Quantum Leap and eating leftover pizza. In the afternoon, Jenna decided she wanted to learn to play racquetball so I ran to the store and bought her a racquet while she got ready. We went to my office and played for over an hour, mostly me teaching her the rules and then practicing serves and getting used to how the ball moves in the space and all. it was really fun, and she absolutely loved playing. Success! I've been wanting to find something she and I can do together that's physical and not just working out to be working out. I think this may be the one. So we're going to play again soon, and I may supplement with running if I can figure out my shoes.

Sunday evening was also awesome. AJ came over at 6:30 and we headed out to the Movie Tavern on Hampden and Tower. We were going to see "Taken" at 8:00 and I wanted to get there with plenty of time to explore, order food, etc. Some friends from up north came down as well and it was really good to see them again. So we're all at this theatre about an hour before the show starts and when we go in, they're still cleaning it. We head out to wait in the hallway. While we're there, we are greeted by almost every member of the staff, several of whom made food suggestions and one of whom helped us figure out how big a 10" pizza is by use of the second knuckle on his pinkie (he had measured it and it was exactly one inch). Once they cleaned the place out we went inside and got to see how this joint works. Instead of having rows of seats pretty much jam-packed together in the theatre, there was a lot of space between them (to allow waitstaff, I'm thinking). The rows aternated between regular movie chairs with small tables between them and nice leather office chairs lined up at a counter. Every pair of seats has a little red switch that lights up when you flip it to let the waitstaff know you need something. The food was really tasty and everything was very reasonably priced. Tickets were $7.50 for adults and the cheeseburgers we got were like $8 each. Drinks are reasonable and you get refills, and you can get a bucket of popcorn for like $5 with free refills, too. Regular theatres will refill your popcorn, but you have to go out of the theatre and wait in line ot get it. Here, the waitstaff will come pick up your bucket and bring it back to you in your seats so you don't miss anything. Brilliant!

I need to take a fresh paragraph to rave about the service here. Everyone in this place is friendly and happy. They are helpful and attentive without being disruptive. It's a big danger when eating dinner in the theatre that you'll have your waiter coming and bugging you during important parts and everything. These folks are great, though. You have your light and they don't bug you unless it's on. And when it is, they get what you need quickly and quietly without bothering you any more than necessary. It was something I was very concerned about heading in, but honestly it was awesome. We had a few people just saying hello in the hallways, too. That's something you rarely get in most restaurants or movie theatres. Normally the staff is brusque at best, and can flat-out ignore you the rest of the time. Everyone working here liked each other and they really seemed to like their jobs, too. It's a huge deal for me, which is why I keep going on about it. The vibe of a venue has a lot to do with my enjoyment of it. Normally the vibe of a theatre is so neutral that you don't even notice it, but having a decidedly positive atmosphere makes a big difference.

So anyhow, that was the weekend. Extremely fun, vaguely productive, and successful on all counts.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Stupid shins!

I thought a day of rest would be enough for my poor, beleaguered shins, but apparently this is not the case. I'm going to let them rest fully until Monday, and then I'll start again. I did stretch today, which should have helped but I went from no pain to serious pain in less than a minute on the treadmill. I may also just need to go invest in some new shoes. I really want to keep running, but I don't think it's a good idea to continue on without solving the problem. I did end up riding the recumbent bike for a bit, so I'm thinking I can still do something, even if it isn't actual running.

In other news, we saw a really cool movie theatre when we went to Comedy Works. The tickets are more expensive ($12 for regular, $15 for VIP) but they include free soft drinks and popcorn. Awesome, eh? It also sounds like the seats are super comfy and all. it's a small theatre, but I want to try it. I've also been curious about a place called the Movie Tavern for a long time. We have tried to go once and failed. We're going to try again on Sunday and anyone who is interested should contact me and let me know times and movies you're interested in. The link to the particular theatre is below so you can see what our options are. I'm thinking Taken, Inkheart, Coraline, or Underworld 3.

Movie Tavern - Aurora, CO

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Many of you have had these, and I have rarely gotten anything but compliments on them. I even had one lady at my company picnic tell me they were the best burgers she'd ever had, which was cool. They're kind of complicated (more like tiny flat meatloaf than a regular burger, I guess), but they turn out very well, so it's worth it in the end.

You need beef, first off. I like 93/7 ground beef, but I've made these with everything from 80/20 to 97/3 and they don't seem to care much. I have noticed that the higher the fat ratio of the burgers, the more likely they are to shrink on the grill. I tend to work with a pound of this stuff and the ratios of everything else are based on that.

You'll need one egg, lightly beaten. Not whipped or anything, just homogenized more or less. You want it to mix into the rest of the stuff smoothly without great honking chunks of yolk anywhere.

You'll also need some bread crumbs. I'm a bread crumbs in a can guy, and I like the Italian seasoned kind.

For taste, I like some teriyaki (sometimes, I use the purple-capped garlic teriyaki instead of regular, but it can be hard to find), some garlic powder (if using regular teriyaki), some hickory flavoring, a couple big pinches of kosher salt, some more of those generalized Italian flakes in a can, and a little tiny bit of extra virgin olive oil to get everything nice and squishy.

Throw all of this into a big bowl. As far as amounts go, I start with the meat and the egg, add the seasonings and the olive oil and get it mixed up. I use my hands with smaller amounts, and I try not to really beat it up if I can help it. Then I throw in breadcrumbs until I get to the right consistency. You're looking for something wet enough to hang together, but also dry enough to hang together. The bread crumbs are sort of a stabilizer. They add some structure to the whole mix, and keep it from being a goopy mess. They also give the burgers a better texture. Don't ask me how any of this works, I just made burgers like this one time and it worked so I stuck with it. There was no science involved.

Now that you've got this all set, you can start forming patties. Keep your hands cool while you do this, and don't beat your meat. Be gentle. If you rough it up, the burgers get defensive and scrunch up into little balls on the grill. You want nice flat burgers, right? Rinse your hands with cold water periodically to keep the heat from getting into your burgers and use light patting and squishing to flatten them out. Once they're flat, you can lay them out on a plate with some waxed paper between layers and head to your grill.

That's about as far as I go here, because your grill is your own business. If you don't know how to cook burgers on it, you should take it back to the store and get a McDonald's gift card or something. I will tell you not to squish the burgers on the grill, at least. They make an incredibly satisfying sizzle, but that sizzle is all the juiciness of your burger burning away. Resist the urge.

Enjoy and, as always, feel free to ask any questions you have.

Comedy Works: Experiencing a Ketchup Shortage of Epic Proportions

Last night I went to Comedy Works with my wife and our friends AJ and Bonnie. It was pretty good. It was a free night, which means the people on stage were kind of hit or miss. Some were very good, some were really painful, and the rest fell somewhere in the middle. the headliner was worthwhile, too. In any case, this is not why I've brought you here. I have brought you here to warn you about a plague that started at Comedy Works and may well be spreading to other venues near you.

This plague is a subtle, insidious demon. You wouldn't even notice it, maybe, unless you ordered a food item that is generally best served with a particular condiment. I really walked right into it by ordering french fries, I guess. Still, when my basket came, I didn't realize that I had been struck until I dipped a fry into...1/4" of ketchup in the bottom of a 1" diameter tiny bowl. For those of you playing at home, that's like a quarter of a cubic inch of ketchup. That's roughly .14 fl oz. For a basket of fries. It is approximately enough ketchup to properly dip three fries, assuming you dip once after each bite. It is enough to spread very very thinly over like 10 fries, if you dip each fry only one time and don't swirl it around to get better coverage. There is no possible way to get that much ketchup onto a whole basket of fries. There weren't enough ketchup molecules available, for each fry to have its own. I may seem to be going on and on about this, but that's only for this reason: when we asked for more, she brought us precisely one more tiny bowl with the same amount of ketchup in it, and charged us a quarter for it.

Let that sink in.

I am okay with paying $9 for a basket of fries at a show where I didn't have to buy tickets. That I understand. They need to make money, and overcharging for food is a way to do that. But charging for absolutely pitiful amounts of condiments to go with overpriced food? That's over the line. If we go back, I'm satisfying their two-item minimum by buying the two cheapest things on the menu. It'll still be $8, but it's the principle of the thing.

Also, this morning I decided to give my legs a rest and they're feeling much better. I may try to continue with a two days on, one day off schedule for the foreseeable future and see if that gets me where I want to be.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Recipe from this very blog!


Just in case some of you aren't reading all the comments on each of these posts, I figured I'd re-post this one for your enjoyment. I used it last night for the first time and was absolutely overjoyed with the results. My wife can confirm that I wouldn't stop talking about the steak for hours after I was done. Thanks, Kristie!

Okay, here's what you need: A steak. I'm a recent Costco member and their inch-thick, USDA choice ribeyes for under $6/lb make me do a little dance in my head every time I think about them. You will need some of those. Or some of another, far inferior, woefully-overpriced meat-slab. You will also need some seasonings. I used some kosher salt, some Lowry's seasoned salt and some hickory seasoning. You will need some high-heat oil (not Extra Virgin Olive, for example. Safflower worked well for me)and a cast iron skillet. If you don't have a cast iron skillet, you're wrong. Go get one so you can be right. You'll need to "season" this skillet, but I still haven't gotten mine right so ask someone else about it.

This is precisely all you need, disregarding a kitchen timer, tongs, some crazy-insulated oven mitts and so on. If we want to get crazy, I can also specify teeth, fingers, steak-knives, arms, elbows, etc. Basically, you need a kitchen, some cast iron, some flavor and some meat. Rock on?

Let your steak sit out for a while. You want it to warm up almost to room temperature before you get started. You can sprinkle both sides with your seasonings at this point. Once your steaks are up around 60 degrees or so, spread a little oil around the bottom of your skillet with a paper towel, pop it into your oven and turn it to broil. Leave it be for like 10 minutes. Pull out the rack using your mitt (you can touch the skillet but only if you're damned sure it can take that kind of heat) and drop your steak on there. It'll sizzle like the dickens, but you just slide the rack back in and set your timer for 2-3 minutes. Kristie suggested 2 minutes on the first side, with another few on the other. That got me a good crust on the outside, but the inside wasn't as done as I like. I'm planning to stick with 3 minutes next time, and see what that gets me. Once the timer goes off, pull out the rack, turn your steak with the tongs (be careful not to touch the skillet as it is currently hot enough to burn your soul) and slide it back in. Set your timer for another set of minutes (2-3, depending on various factors) and let the steak sit. When the timer goes off, take the steak out of the pan and put it on a plate to sit for 10 minutes or so. I cover mine with a sheet of foil to help keep the heat in a bit more. If you want a rarer steak, you can leave this off and I think the heat will dissipate more easily, leaving your steak less cooked.

*Begin Update* Having tried this again, I have determined several things: one, putting your steaks in a zip-loc bag and letting them hang out in warm water for a bit works really well to get them to room temp, and two, cooking for 2:45 to 3:00 on each side is perfect, as long as you let them sit on a plate under a sheet of foil for about 10 minutes. That carryover heat will finish the job very nicely. *End Update*

Shouldn't a splint make you feel better?

To start, I did run my 20 minutes this morning, so this isn't a justification of a cop-out on my part. I even ran at a very slightly faster pace than my standard 6.0 mph. However, my shins hurt like the freakin' dickens before, during and after the run. To understand this, we should probably go back to the beginning.

In high school, specifically my sophomore year, I played football and joined the wrestling team. This was probably just a prime example of my poor decision-making skills at the time, but whatever, right? Anyway, those are activities that require running and quite a bit of it. At this point, I started to develop shin splints. If you haven't had them, you're lucky. They hurt quite a bit, and make it difficult to run without looking like Quasimodo. I don't know if this is the primary reason for my miserable failure in sports at the time (it may have something to do with size 15 feet on a 5'8" frame) but it was a contributing factor, for sure. I hated running. I wasn't good at it and it hurt. So I stopped. I joined theatre and debate and went on through high school without missing sports (except martial arts, which I continued to do) at all.

This cessation of physical activity lasted a long time. I didn't really do much extended running in college. I played a few intramural sports, went to the gym maybe 3 times, and then got myself into the SCA. That involved physical activity (fencing, fighting, archery) but not running, and certainly not running more than 50 yards at a time. So the shin splints weren't a factor. I honestly thought they were gone. I thought I'd grown out of them. Then college was over without my having run for any extended period for the duration. I ended up in an apartment with a friend who was big into working out, so we went and did that quite a bit. Mostly lifting, though. Still no extended running. At least, no extended running for days in a row. I would use the recumbent bike quite a bit, but that hasn't ever had the same effect on me.

Honestly, the past 3-4 months is the first time I've done much running for more than a few minutes, more than a few days in a row, and I think it's starting to wear on me. My shins hurt like hell more or less all day after a run. It's tough to walk without limping like a big freak, and they don't heal overnight so the next morning's run is tough, too. I keep thinking that it's just muscle soreness that will go away if I work the appropriate muscles, but that doesn't seem to be happening. Maybe I need to head back to the running store and see if anyone can help me there. Maybe different shoes would be helpful? Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Everyone should have one of these

Force Trainer

Can you even think of anything cooler than this? No, no you can't. I'm totally getting one when it comes out. I don't even care.

Potentially the second-easiest dip ever, behind the onion soup one

Next time you have to go to a pot luck, bring along a batch of this and people won't even notice that you're wearing women's underwear on your head. It's that good. It's also freakin' simple to make. many thanks to my older sister for introducing me to this stuff.

Get a bottle of Caesar dressing. The creamy kind. I like Cardini's or Ken's Steakhouse stuff.

Get a 2-cup package of grated (shredded? Not the powder stuff) parmesan cheese.

Get a can or jar of artichoke hearts.

Preheat your oven to 350 earth temperature units.

Pour the dressing (all of it, remember my aversion to measuring) into an oven-safe dish. Put half the cheese in there too. Drain and cut up your artichoke hearts into little tiny pieces and put them in there. Stir this all together until it looks nice and mixed. Pour the other half of the cheese over the top and slap the whole thing into the oven for about 20 minutes. The cheese should get melty and the rest of the dip should be creamy and warm. Serve with bagel chips, some of those little Italian toast slices, pita chips, your finger, whatever.

I haven't tried adding some of my generalized chicken to it yet, but I get the feeling it would be very tasty. Next time I make this stuff, it's getting the poultry power.

The only issue I've had with this recipe is that there seems to be some oil separating out of something and floating to the top. it's not anything that affects the flavor, but it's a little gross to look at. I'm going to keep experimenting with the various ingredients to see if I can figure out why. I thought the dressing might be separating, but it seems like that would be a bigger problem. My current theory is that the marinated artichoke hearts I've been using are releasing some of the oil they soaked in when they get warm, and that's traveling up to the top. Next batch will use artichoke hearts packed in water to see if the problem continues. If anyone else has any other ideas, I'd love to hear them.

Running again!

We got to bed later than we wanted to last night, but still managed to get up and run this morning. Yay us! I went a little over 2 miles in 20 minutes (2.07, to be precise), trying to do a 6.0 for the first half and 6.5 for the last half. At about 15 minutes I started to feel a little pukey, so I slowed back down to 6 for the remainder. Tomorrow, I'll make it half and half, then I can keep increasing the amount of time I'm running at 6.5 until I can do it for the full 20 minutes (or extend the workout to 30 minutes if we can get into the gym a little sooner). I'm pretty proud. I don't think I'm likely losing any weight yet, as my eating has been less than ideal the past several days, but I'm certainly burning more calories and cranking my metabolism a lot more than if I were sleeping in or sitting on the couch or whatever.

In other news, being evil in Fallout 3 is surprisingly difficult. Maybe I'm weird, but I actually feel bad when I kill innocent people in a video game. Especially since most of these innocent people are somewhat important characters with distinct personalities and all that. So, while I can certainly walk around killing in discriminately, it just doesn't feel right. Unfortunately, it's sort of required for me to get some of the achievements. Maybe I shouldn't let it bug me, but it kinda does. The same thing happens in Fable. When interacting with anyone in a video game, being a jerk takes effort and concentration and leaves sort of a bad taste in my mouth. I'm a 'completer' though, so I try to wring all possible content out of any game I purchase. I don't want to become unconcerned with it, because I'm sort of pleased with the fact that being good comes naturally, but it's also frustrating to be playing a game I really enjoy in a way that makes me morally uncomfortable. Sort of a weird thing to think about, I guess.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Ah, Monday morning. The one time of the week when staying in bed until noon actually sounds like a good idea to me. Still, 7 was probably more than enough, and thus I find myself at work, not having run, nor having made breakfast or any snacks. I can't really describe how pleased I am that I can wake up at 7:00 and be in my chair at work by 7:30 having taken a shower, cleaned the cat box, etc. Anyway, we slept in this morning because we were up pretty late last night playing our new RPG and then getting the house in order afterward. That's the end of the weekend, though, which is an odd place to start. Let's start at the more traditional starting place, shall we?

Friday we were supposed to leave right after work and go to Denver Fabrics to get fabric for our chair cushions, but I had to stay late to finish up some stuff and we missed our window. Instead, we went to a place near our house to hang out with Jenna's former boss and some of her current and past coworkers. Over the years, i have come to the conclusion that hanging out at a bar is the single stupidest idea ever created. Here's a recipe for fun: Put a bunch of people in a dim, loud, crowded environment and watch them try to talk to each other. Hilarity ensues! So we're sitting in a loud, crowded, dimly-lit bar, yelling at each other for about 2 hours or something. I can't hear a word of what anyone's saying, so I'm amusing myself by counting the whiskers on this stuffed moose's chin (174) while Jenna and her coworkers apparently talk to each other using their radioactive super ears or some such. Fun! Afterward, we were both super hungry and decided to head home and look up a new place to get steak. There's a place called "The Dusty Boot" that opened near us, and was kind enough to send us a coupon with their announcement. We headed over there, ordered steak, received uncooked flesh slabs and didn't see our waitress again until we left. Sweet! In what world does a medium-rare steak whimper when you cut into it? I know that people probably have various definitions of what medium-rare means to them, but in my view, it never means you have to keep it from escaping. We've had this issue a few places now. Do people just not know how to cook steak or something? Bah, I say. So we went home, disappointed, but inordinately proud of ourselves for having tried something new.

Saturday dawned bright and beautiful, which meant I woke up before 7 and played Fallout 3 while my lovely wife slept in. We had a lot of errands to run, so when she did wake up, we got ready, went to the fabric store, the army surplus (which she hates for entirely valid reasons), the library, and Costco. We just recently got our membership there and the place fills me with strange glee. I don't go to a normal store and get excited about the sheer size of the products. At Costco, though, it's like a shopping safari. You're not seeing a little bunny (1 pack of gum) or even a raccoon (3-pack), you're seeing a damn Cape Buffalo (12 packs of gum?!). The quantity imbues the stuff with a quality it would not otherwise possess. I feel like I'm failing to explain it properly, but if you've been there you probably know the feeling. In any case, we got some steaks there (under $6/lb for thick USDA choice ribeyes. Glee!) which we are planning to fire up in the oven per a friend's suggestions. If that works, my access to a never-ending source of meat and a means with which to cook it will make me feel like I'm not entirely bereft of my grill. On the way home, we got churros from Del Taco and Blizzards from Dairy Queen. If you're thinking "Wow, that sounds decadent," you're totally right. I have only recently discovered the glory that is the Lactaid caplet and it has reopened the world of dairy-based desserts to me. I'm still getting used to the idea that I can eat ice cream again, and hadn't thought to indulge in a blizzard until this weekend. I'm just hoping that I won't go overboard with it, now that I do know.

Sunday was cleaning day! We actually accomplished a lot. Vacuumed, wiped, dusted, etc. Even organized some things and moved some furniture around to make it a little more open. great stuff, though. I also made my pulled pork for the RPG we hosted Sunday night. it worked quite well, though I was right about not wanting to put the broth in the mix. I thought since I was using my bigger crock it would need the extra liquid, but it ended up just being too much so I laded almost all of it out anyway. Still, successful meal, I think. The game was very fun, too. I've come up with a character I tend not to play, in that he's a reall open, warm-hearted, friendly guy, while I tend to play mostly witty, sarcastic folks. So that experience is proving to be challenging and fun.

That's it, really. It was a good time, vaguely productive, plenty of fun, and quite a bit of good eating.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Generalized chicken

I'm a fan of foods that have multiple uses. You can eat rice straight up, throw some chicken on it, put it in a burrito, make it into a casserole or any number of other things. I like rice. Chicken can do this, too. You can have one way of producing chicken that goes well in a salad, on pasta, in a sandwich, etc. It isn't even that tough to do.

Start with boneless, skinless chicken breasts. You can get a raft of them anywhere. Your mechanic probably sells them. Just find a good brand and go with it. The super cheap stuff can tend to have a nasty texture, so I'd avoid anything too far to the low end of the spectrum. I tend to use two of these at a go, but you can do as many as you want.

You need some kind of olive oil or some nonstick spray. Not a ton, just enough to keep your chicken from becoming cobblestones on your cookware, savvy?

Seasonings are up to you, but I've found something that works well for us. Garlic powder (again, real garlic works if you're not super lazy), some of that green leafy stuff in the jar marked "Italian Seasonings" and a few other optional goodies. I have taken to throwing some Italian breadcrumbs and grated (the powder stuff in the can) Parmesan cheese onto this chicken while it's in the pan. You get a little bit of tasty goodness sticking to it. Not enough to require you to dip stuff in egg or anything, just a little bit of crispy stuck to the chicken. This is optional, like I said, so feel free to leave it out.

Your hardware is a sharp knife, a cutting board, a stainless pan with a lid and a metal turner. Why specifically metal? Because while you're cooking, you want to be able to break up any pieces that are sticking together without having to spend 20 minutes on it, and you can also use the metal turner to cut through some chicken pieces to make sure everything's done. This is also why you need a stainless pan. You try that trick with a non-stick skillet or something and you'll end up with a shiny spiro-graph in the bottom of it by the time your chicken's done.

Okay, now for the cooking bit. Spray down your pan. Not a ton, just a little bit in the bottom. Now cut up your chicken. Weird, right? Everyone cooks chicken in full breast format and then cuts it up afterward. Why? You get to the same place, but you get there faster, and with flavor on all sides of your chicken bits if you cut it up first. It's not like you're cooking your chicken medium rare or something. So cut it up into nice little bite-sized chunks. Drop them in the pan and turn the heat up to somewhere in the neighborhood of medium. Shake on some goodness. You don't need a lot, but you'll want enough to get a fair bit on each piece once you get it moving around. So get that in there, turn your chicken pieces over, then hit 'em again. Now they've got delicious crunchies and seasonings all around them, and you're ready to slap the lid on.

I have learned through trial and error that cooking chicken with the lid on wins. Cooking with the lid off, you're in a constant battle to keep the moisture in your chicken so by the time it's done, it's probably not anything you'd want to eat anyway. Keeping the lid on makes the chicken cook faster and it stays really moist and juicy all the way through. Delicious!

Let it sit until you've got white cooked chicken on the bottom and starting to creep up the sides. Turn it all over, now. Chances are good it'll be sticking together pretty well because of the breadcrumbs and the olive oil, but you can break it up once it's turned over. Pop the lid back on. Let it sit a few more minutes, then cut up the biggest piece of chicken you can find with your metal turner. If it's done, you can be pretty sure the rest of the smaller pieces are done, too.

Now you can take it off the heat and move it onto whatever you want. The wife and I really like it on a mixture of Romaine and Spinach with croutons and Caesar dressing. When we have some left over, we'll put it onto pasta with either a white or red sauce. It's really versatile, though. the flavor is good but subtle enough to let it ride with a lot of other things. I'd totally drop it onto some bread and make a little chicken salad sandwich. Cut the pieces smaller and mix it into a dip I'll be teaching you how to make in a little bit. I've also made chicken like this and then put it into a casserole with rotini noodles, broccoli and cheese, with some panko on top. Really, you have a lot of options. I wouldn't mix it with any flavors that are violently different, like soy sauce or something, but it might still be good.

So there you go. Nice easy chicken that goes well with lots of stuff and is easy enough to make most any time you want. Enjoy!

Gotta keep running

Two more miles today. Woot! Took me 20 minutes, but whatever, right? I got out there way freakin' early this morning and made it happen.

It actually turned into an almost comically productive morning after that. We came home, weighed ourselves on Wii Fit, Jenna jumped in the shower and I started to make breakfast. I made too much, like I almost always do, so tomorrow I'm cutting way back. Anyway, I put away the dishes that were in the dishwasher from last night while the eggs were cooking, washed some other dishes, ate my breakfast, prepped our mid-morning snack, washed all the dishes I had dirtied in this process, drank a big bottle of water, read some of this fitness book I'm really enjoying (Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle by Tom Venuto), then cleaned the cat box, took my shower and got all ready, picked out and put on my clothes, picked out my wife's clothes, then read to her while she finished getting ready. All of that before I even made it to work. I feel pretty awesome about it. I'm thinking I could handle a morning similar to that almost every day, really.

Made up words make the best songs

Last night, my wife and I were hanging out at home, getting ready to head out to run some errands (Incidentally, Greenwood Village is currently experiencing its very own potato famine. True story. Every freakin' potato in this town has already started growing sprouts.). Like I am wont to do, I sorta fudged a word to make a new, fake word. I do this sort of thing a lot. I intentionally leave the "-ly" off of adverbs, I noun-ify stuff, I do all sorts of weird things. When you have an English degree, this counts as entertainment. Anyway, Jenna was wearing some pajama pants and needed to go put on some normal people pants so we could go to Wal-Mart and stick out like sore thumbs. I suggested she put on "diffrental pants," and that immediately turned into a song. It goes thusly:

"Diffrental pants! Do-do-do-doo!"

That's really it, but if you do that a bunch of times in a row it vaguely makes a song. Anyhow, she loves this song and keeps singing it over and over while we're leaving the house. When we get into the car she says "Okay, sing it with me! Ready? Go! Diffrental pants! Do-do-do-doo!" I, of course, did not sing. I expect her to exhort me to join her again, but instead she says "Wow, that's a really easy song. I'm sort of embarrassed for you right now." And that is one of the many reasons why I love her.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Totally worth it.

So my little sister told me this story last weekend, and I still laugh just thinking about it. Therefore, I am sharing it with you, good people of Earth. Here goes (note that :: :: around a piece of text indicates physical action) :

Chick hanging out outside bar: I'm so hot every guy in here wants to get on me (or something).
Dude hanging out outside bar: No you're not, you're fuckin' fat.
Chick: Shut up, asshole! I just had a baby!
Dude: Yeah, and I'm sure it was delicious! ::wiggling fingers near mouth::
Chick: ::Punches dude in the face::
Dude: ::Falls down, then gets back up, nose bleeding profusely:: Worth it! Totally worth it!

If I were ethnic, I would call it carnitas. For me, it's vaguely spicy shredded pork.

Another food-type substance for all you folks at home. I've got another simple, no-measuring type of recipe. I do love making a complete dinner without having to dirty a single measuring implement, don't you?

This is another food that makes use of one of my favorite kitchen tools: the slow cooker. You'll notice a theme here, and it involves me not having to do much in the way of cooking when I'm cooking. If you've been reading this blog faithfully (and why wouldn't you be?) you will see that I made a post about a BBQ-esque pork product. This is based off of a very similar principle, so you'll get some repetition in here.

You need a sack o' pork to start with. I like the 'pork tenderloin' in the plastic sleeve thingy you can get at the grocery store. It's cheap, tender, and works well in my one quart crock. Grab one of these wiley devils.

You also need seasonings. I'm a fan of garlic, Lowry's seasoned salt and green Tabasco. The green Tabasco isn't as hot as the red, and that's good for me, considering that my tongue is about as tough as wet, single-ply toilet paper. It also has a really good flavor to it. If you haven't tried it before, do yourself a flavor and give it a go. I totally just said flavor instead of favor, didn't I? Entirely unintentional, I assure you. In any case, this is pretty much it for seasonings.

Like with the BBQ, you can use an optional half can of chicken broth. It works better in this recipe than the BBQ one, so I do tend to use it here.

Okay, drop your pork in your slow cooker, pour in your broth, and sprinkle on your garlic powder (or real garlic if you're willing to spend more than 5 minutes preparing dinner) and your seasoned salt in pretty reasonable quantities. You're not going for full coverage here, but you'll want a fair bit of this in the mix when this piggy's cooking. Now, go to freakin' town on the green Tabasco. I think I use probably a quarter to half a bottle on this every time I make this for dinner. This part is up to you, but I tend towards heavy coverage. That doesn't mean tabasco on every visible piece of meat, but it does mean a pretty thorough splotching. First off, the stuff isn't all that spicy, so you're not going to blow the top of your head off with it, no matter what you do. Second, you're going to have a lot of liquid in here, and this stuff will get pretty well diluted in the juices when the moisture starts moving around. Use your judgement. You can always start light and add more later if you want.

Really open this baby up and let it ride at low for 8 hours (or 4 hours on high) with a flip and reapplication in the middle. Again, you can just get both sides when you put it in there the first time if this isn't an option. Take your two forks to it, getting it shredded pretty finely. It'll be really tender, so you shouldn't have any problems with it. Now, you can throw some more seasonings and Tabasco in (if you want). Either way, stir it all up in the bottom and let it go for another 20 minutes or so. You can take this time to warm up some taco shells in the oven, or steam some tortillas for burritos (a rice cooker will often have plenty of space left in the top for you to put a couple tortillas after the rice is mostly done cooking, and the steam will get them nice and soft, just like at Chipotle or whatever), or put some cheese on some chips in preparation for nachos. Really, any vaguely Mexican food that requires meat will work with this stuff. I once dropped little bits of this into egg roll wrappers and deep fried them, giving me tiny chimichangas. Delicious!

That's the whole thing! Super easy. Use forks or tongs to serve, and shake some of the excess juice out of it. It'll be pretty slippery, but the extra juiciness goes extremely well with crunchy taco shells or tortilla chips or whatever. Enjoy!

Too much?

I ran this morning. Not for long, mind you, but relatively quickly, given my current condition (I should say my current conditioning or something because now you totally think I'm pregnant). I ran a total of 1.66 miles in 15 minutes, which puts me on an average pace of about 9 min/mi. Keep in mind that I just about freaked out running one mile at this pace a few days ago, and that sounds way cooler than it does right now.

I started with about 30 seconds at 3 mph, to get myself moving, then went to 6.0 mph until I hit the 5 minute mark. I moved it up to 6.5 for the next 5 minutes, then decided to finish strong. So I punched it up to 7 at the 10 minute mark, and did 2 minutes there. Then up to 7.5 for another two minutes. I finished at 8 for a minute and then tried very hard not to vomit for about 7 minutes. not my finest hour probably, but certainly a decent workout. I'm hoping when I do it again tomorrow, I won't have nearly as much trouble with it.

Also worth noting: this run at my current weight apparently burned 300 calories. Yes, 300 calories, the same number of calories to be found in the first breath you take after opening a bag of Skittles. *sigh*

If any of you run or swim or bike or anything else, check out this site:

It's a great free way to track your runs, swims, rides, lifting sessions or most anything else you can think of. you can track your weight or rep increases over time with charts they make for you, or see how your run time on a given course has improved. You can even keep track of how many miles you put on a pair of shoes. Very cool stuff.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Sort of BBQ

True barbecue involves smoke, I'm told. At least fire, maybe a grill. Certainly not a slow cooker. Right? Wrong, son! Well, actually, yes. You can't make real BBQ without leaving your kitchen, I'm thinking. But you can make some darn tasty food with very little fuss that will very nearly pass as BBQ among those who aren't too keen on semantics.

Let's get rolling! You're going to need a few things first. Some meat. I like pork, but you can use chicken or beef, too. You'll want about a pound of it, no bones. They sell a pork tenderloin wrapped in plastic at most grocery stores. That works well.

You need sauce, too. I like Sweet Baby Ray's Honey BBQ sauce, but you can use whatever you like.

I also like to pump some extra flavor into the mix with some hickory seasoning, some Lowry's seasoned salt, some brown sugar and some honey.

I have gone two ways with added liquid. Adding about half a can of chicken broth gives the pork something to stew in, but this baby is also going to give off a lot of moisture on its own. if you put too much liquid in there at the beginning, you end up with pork stew. Try it a few times with different amounts of liquid and see how you like it. I've found that the pork does just fine without any liquid, but it's up to you.

You also need a platform. I'm a big fan of those egg buns, but really any large-style hamburger bun will work. I like mine buttered and toasted under the broiler, but you can do what you will with them. Note that a thin layer of mayo or Miracle Whip on the bottom bun will keep it from getting overly soggy and will taste really freakin' good as a bonus.

You should be good! If you're getting the feeling that this will be a very sweet piece o' meat, you are correct, sir. I don't much go in for spice, and my tendencies in the BBQ realm show that loud and clear.

That's it for software. Hardware means a slow cooker of some sort. For the wife and me, I generally use our little one quart crock pot. It holds the one pound tenderloin with a little room for liquid and stuff, and just enough space left over to shred it all up when you're done. We get two meals out of it, generally. For more folks, you need a bigger cooker. Keep in mind that you want the cooker to be relatively full so you don't have a pile of meat sitting in the middle of a wide expanse of ceramic. If you can't eat enough pork to fill your cooker, just freeze some of it when you're done.

So here we go with the cooking. You need at least 4 hours from beginning to end with this, and preferably 8, so plan ahead. Take your pork out of the package and pull off any noticeable fat chunks. You can leave them on if you like, but I tend to pull mine off. If you're going to pour chicken broth in here, now's the time. With a 1 quart slow cooker, I don't use more than half a can. Now you can sprinkle on your seasonings. I go heavy with brown sugar, pretty light with the hickory and Lowry's, and reasonable on the honey. You're not aiming to cover every square inch of this thing, just get a little flavor in there for it to work on while it cooks. Put the lid on, and crank it all the way up to low (if you're cooking for 8 hours) or high (for 4 hours).

Let it sit for half the cook time (this can rather handily be done while you're at work in the morning, if you are lucky enough to be able to go home for lunch) then flip it over and hit the underside with the same spices and whatnot. If you can't do this, it isn't the end of the world. You can just hit both sides of the thing when you first put it in the cooker and get the same effect. I like the halfway check so I can make sure everything's looking good. Let it sit for the other half of the cook time.

Now you get to go Raphael on this little piggy with two forks. Shred it up into pretty small chunks. Remember you're putting it on a sandwich, so you don't want any pieces in there bigger than you'd want to bite into. I tend to shred mine up really well, to make it "smooth" or whatever. Now that it's shredded, you can bring in the sauce. Keep in mind that you've had this thing cooking for a while and it'll already have a lot of juice in it. You've also already got a fair amount of flavor in there from your seasonings. You want enough sauce to get your meat slippery (not like that, you dirty freak). Too little makes for a dry sandwich and too much makes for a drippy mess. Just add and stir until it looks like it'll hold together on a sandwich without dripping out the sides.

Let this sit for another 15-20 minutes while you get your buns ready (you really need to see a psychologist regarding all these inappropriate thoughts you're having about perfectly innocent recipe-speak). I like toasted bread, specifically buttery toasted bread. A little of your favorite butter-like substance (real butter is always a good choice in my book) on the top and bottom and a minute or so under the broiler (Never ever EVER leave these unattended. Tasty buttery bread turns to charcoal in no time at all under your broiler.) until they're tasty golden brown. Slather a little mayo or mayo-like substance on both sides and introduce the two pieces of bread to delicious pig filling. Enjoy!

Potentially a Downer

This entry won't be like many you'll read here. It involves feelings, some of them negative, and I'm generally against such. If you are similarly averse, feel free to skip.

This weekend was the first time I'd seen my paternal grandmother in about 6 years. She lives in Indiana, so it's a bit of a trip for us, and it's one we didn't make terribly often. Still, she's been a larger part of my life than I realized before I saw her again. She used to come out and visit quite a bit, and came out for a long time to help my mom with us older kids when my mom was pregnant with my little sister. As many of you know, I have a strange inability to keep track of events in my life. Not like full-on amnesia or anything, but things that happen to me tend to fall away quickly, leaving very little emotional residue behind. When I do remember my younger years, it's primarily as a list of facts and events, similar to what you could get from a vague history text. This effect had been in full swing until I sat in a small room with a woman who had been around my entire life, and whom I realized I hadn't really bothered to know.

My grandma was born in 1918 in a small town in Indiana. Her parents owned a farm, where she worked probably until she got married. I don't know how she and my grandpa met. She lived through the great depression without being aware of it, since their farm provided everything she and her sisters needed. She had three sisters (something I did know) and two brothers (a fact I learned this weekend), but the brothers both died young. She had two sons, lived in the same house for over 60 years, and traveled when she was able. I know that she was strong up until just a few years ago, and that she kept a garden as long as she could. I know she was a great cook, and that she has a lot of friends. This, upsettingly enough, is nearly everything I can say about her with any degree of certainty.

The reason this is coming to the surface now is that she had a respiratory infection a few years back that was treated with steroids which then caused her throat muscles to atrophy. Essentially, she can't speak without great difficulty, and can only eat foods of a specific viscosity (water and other drinks have to be thickened so she doesn't aspirate them). She can speak, but she's difficult to understand and the effort wears her out quickly. I sat there in that room with my mom and dad, my two sisters, and the two newest members of our family, and realized how much I will never know about my grandma. She spent years with us, and I never thought to ask her about her life. I'm sure she told me some of it when I was younger, but I don't remember much now. The difficult part to accept is that when I'm finally old and mature enough to listen, she can't tell me what I was too young and stupid to ask about before.

I don't want this to be one of those "Don't let this happen to you" sort of things, nor should it be something you feel guilty about if you're in a similar situation. Just know that by the time you're ready to listen, the ones you love may not be able to speak.


Yo yo yo! Well, as many of you know, I like to cook. I've come to it rather recently, but I really enjoy it and am continually expanding my repertoire of deceptively simple recipes. Actually, that's a bad description. They aren't recipes, as such. There is very little measuring involved, and I leave a fair bit of wiggle room. In any case, this is the first of probably several lists of ingredients that can conceivably end up as food, with a little bit of your help.

Jared's Super Simple Lasagna

First, you need a lasagna pan. I don't mean a $400 specialty 5-layer aluminum-clad monstrosity, I mean something vaguely quadrilateral, with sides higher than 2.5" ideally. You could make this in a square cake pan, but taller sides means more layers and more layers are what lasagna is all about. I picked up a roasting pan at Ross for under $10 and it has served me faithfully for a good long while. I would suggest stainless, and avoid non-stick as you're going to be cutting and scraping to get the first few pieces out. Pyrex would also be great if you could get one with high enough sides.

So, once you get your pan, you need to get your noodles. I have used the boily noodles exclusively to this point, but never again! I went to a friend's house and she used the non-boil kind and they were fantastic. It takes the only pain in the ass part out of making lasagna. So from now on, no more boily noodles for me. What you need to do is to get a few packages of your noodles of choice, bust them open and start laying them out in your clean, dry pan. This is going to show you how many you need and how they should be placed for maximum coverage. Keep in mind that you may well need several packages to get the coverage you want for the pan you have with the number of layers you need.

Okay, now that you have noodles, you need sauce. I'm a jar sauce man. Yes, I know I can make my own sauce. Yes, I'm aware that would be way more impressive. No, I don't give a shiny poop. All I care about is minimizing the amount of time that lasagna is not in my mouth. So get some sauce. Two jars is generally enough for me, but you can make do with less if you have a smaller pan (mine's 9" x 13" or something, and maybe 3" high). Take one jar of sauce and just leave it on the counter. The other jar is going to go into the mix with our next ingredient: cowflesh!

Take a pound of ground beef (or Italian sausage if you like) and brown it up in the bottom of a 2-quart pan. Why not use a skillet, you say? Because once the beef is all brown, you dump the jar of sauce in there, reduce the heat and pop a lid on that bad boy. I drain the fat off of my beef first, but since I tend to use super lean beef (97/3 or so) there often isn't enough to worry about it. This is the meat sauce portion of our show, and it'll show up again later. I tend to keep my heat on just above low, to get the meat and the sauce to play nice together.

What, you say one pound of meat isn't enough for one lasagna? I am forced to agree. My other meat of choice is pepperoni. Pepperoni goes with lasagna like Michael Jackson goes with 8-year old boys: disturbingly well. I prefer the big deli slices, myself. They're pretty thin and you can get good coverage without a ton of overlap. So get yourself a package of these.

Let's see...what else...of yeah, cheese! You're going to want a one-pound (16 fl. oz) container of part skim ricotta cheese (you'll never taste the difference, and you can feel a little better about this next part) , a pound of mozzarella and like half a pound of one of those Italian cheese mixes everyone makes.

You also need an egg. I don't know why, you just do. Beat that egg like it stole your bike.

Now you put your ricotta, your mozzarella and your egg into a big bowl and mix it all up until it's nice and goopy. This works a lot better with your ricotta cheese closer to room temp, so let it sit out a bit before you start. This is now your delicious cheese filling.

We have all the parts, let's put these bad boys together! Take your pan and put a bit of your fresh sauce in the bottom. You don't need a ton, just enough to get a little bit spread out to all your corners and everything. Start laying down noodles. Get yourself a full layer on the bottom and then start with the cheese. keep in mind you're going to have to make this cheese last so don't go nuts, but get a good layer in there. Maybe half your cheese should go in on this step. It sticks together like all get-out, so you'll probably just end up taking little clumps and plopping them next to each other. This'll all melt together and take on a normal shape in the oven. The oven?! Pre-heat that beautiful death machine to 375, as it should have just enough time to get warm while you finish constructing this monster.

You've got a layer of noodles and a layer of cheese. That cheese is simply begging for a noodle-blanket, so slap one on there. You can kinda mash down with the noodles to smooth out the cheese if you want, just don't break your noodles. Now you can put down a layer of your meat sauce. I generally put pretty much my whole meat sauce thing in the one layer, so just go to town. Make sure there aren't too many big clumps of meat or anything, then toss on another noodle layer. Another layer of cheese should finish off your supply, and you can drop your pepperoni on top here. Just get a good solid layer on here, but don't worry about overlapping too much. More noodles, I say!

Now you've got a pretty solid lasagna. All that's left to do is to pour the remaining sauce on top, then put that half pound of various Italian cheeses on there. Now that's a beautiful thing. Cover the top with heavy-duty foil, pop it into the oven for like 30 minutes, then bust it out, take off the foil and give it another 15 so you get some browning. take it out and let it set a little. I normally can't keep from eating it right away, but it doesn't hold together well. if you let it rest for 15-20 minutes, it'll set decently, and 30 minutes would be even better.

So there you have it! A lasagna without dirtying a single measuring spoon or cup. List of stuff to follow.

1 pound ground beef or Italian sausage
1 pound Mozarella cheese
1 16 oz container ricotta cheese
8 oz Italian cheese blend
1 package deli-style pepperoni slices
1 egg
2 24-oz jars spaghetti sauce (I like something with cheese in it, but I'm a cheese fiend)
Noodles (depends on your pan, but probably two packages)

That's all there is to it! This thing in my pan, with the suggested layers, will feed an entire office of hungry people. I think it easily served no fewer than 12, potentially 15. Keep in mind that most of the ingredients in this thing are measured in pounds. One piece will sate even the heartiest of appetities. If you have a short pan, you can cut out a cheese layer. If you have a tall pan, you can add another ground beef layer, or even another ground beef layer and another cheese layer. Keep in mind that variations take work and experimentation. You're not going to make something with all this stuff and have it turn out really horrible, so trying it a few times to get it how you like it isn't the end of the world.

Let me know how it works for you, and please feel free to ask me if you have any questions.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

How to tie a traditional Ascot tie

Okay, this is a specific note on how to tie a traditional ascot tie with a traditional ascot knot. You will not find this very easily anywhere else on the interwebs.

Start here. These pictures are pretty large and easy to see.

There are only six of the original seven pictures, and the captions have been removed. If you want to look at the original article with the instructions in place, go here and click to zoom in.

In any case, the instructions are as follows:

1. Take ends in the hands like this (Both ends hanging loosely, right over left with right hand holding left end and left hand holding right end)

2. Pass the right hand upward (Through the loop around your neck)

3. Allow end to drop straight down (just let the right end of the tie from the beginning hang straight down in front)

4. Make a loop like this and thrust the other end through the centre (This part isn't terribly clear and I'll need to experiment with it to clarify)

5. The knot will then take this appearance (which, since the picture is old and grainy, we cannot appreciate)

6. Each end is then brought down again (bring them down straight and flat to cross in the front)

7. Fasten by means of a tie pin and the Ascot knot is complete (ta-da!)

I believe this series will give a very similar knot, if not identical, and will be checking them against each other. If I get this figured out with any kind of ease, I'll be taking pictures of myself tying the knot and posting them here for all to see.

New Gear

I'm a gear whore. I can admit it, and apparently that's the hardest part. I love equipment. I like researching it, I like buying it, I like just having it. Recently, I've purchased (or received) some cool gear and I figured I'd share the items and why I like them, in case any of you are similarly afflicted.

Roeckl Roeck-GRIP Gloves:

Mine are black, but you get the idea. They are called "DAS EINZIGARTIGE ORIGINAL" on the website ( They're actually equestrian gloves which sort of turned me off to them at first. In case you didn't know, I'm not big on horses. In any case, my family and I were discussing tactical gloves at Christmas (because that's how we roll), and my little sister mentioned these gloves she wears for riding. They sounded pretty cool and absolutely perfect for what I needed. They're incredibly thin and form-fitting. I can still use a cell phone, keyboard, calculator, etc. while wearing them. They're also thin enough that you don't need to cut the trigger finger off to avoid messing up your trigger feel. Beauty! Another awesome feature is their durability. They're made of some kind of extremely grippy aramid fiber, so they're highly abrasion resistant. Other aramids include Kevlar and Nomex, so they're in good company. The other nice thing is that this makes them machine washable, unlike leather. The guy at the store and my sister have both said that they last longer than just about any other glove on the market, and that you will probably lose them before they wear out. For $50, how can you say no?

I'm not sure exactly when I'll be wearing them just yet. I'm thinking light yard work (nothing involving sharp stuff, just for grip and to avoid blisters from chopping wood or whatever) and probably summer shooting. The grip they give is incredible, and even with my Hogue grips my hand still gets slippery after shooting a while in the sun. I think these will help take care of that very nicely.

Cold Steel Magnum Machete:
I've got the 'Magnum' version, which means it's a little longer and a little less of a traditional kukri shape. Still, it's a beast of a machete. It isn't too heavy overall, but the balance is all the way at the tip, making it an ideal chopper. I decided on this one after seeing how well it did at compared with knives that cost 10-20 times more. For about $20, this thing is a beater that won't let you down. I got it for Christmas, so I haven't had a chance to take it out camping or anything yet, but I'll definitely let everyone know how it performs. The grip is solid and the handle shape is very well-designed. It feels comfortable to hold, but it still has a tendency to grab you back. I've held a number of knives and guns that have such an aggressive grip that you don't actually want to put it in your hand. This isn't one of those, for which I'm very thankful.

The reasoning behind the shape on this one is to give you multiple areas of the blade to work with, each of which is suited to a different task. The tip is sharp and can be used to dig into things, the base near the handle is sharp and can be used to shave down spikes or whatever, and the beef of the blade is a little duller, but heavy enough to chop through most anything. You can also see examples of people using the back of the blade as an effective bludgeon. All of these abilities are due to the unique shape. Having the balance so far forward gives an incredible amount of power to your strikes. it does reduce your ability to recover quickly, or to change direction mid-swing, but this isn't an epée. It's meant for heavy duty business, and it is well-suited to such.

SOG Fusion Fixation Bowie:

This is my newest knife after a long line of pretty crappy cheap knives. I have to say, you can really tell the difference between a crappy knife and a good knife as soon as you pick it up. This still isn't a top-of-the-line knife by any means. It cost me right around $40 including shipping from, and SOG has an MSRP on it of $50 ( Even so, the quality of design and construction is apparent. It's a big thing, just over 12" long in total, and it has some heft to it. It also came out of the box already ludicrously sharp. Not just "Man, that's a sharp knife" sharp, but "Cuts through schools" sharp. I spent at least three days just playing with the thing, holding it and moving it around in my hands. It is comfortable, like it was made to fit a hand (which it was, but many knife-makers seem to have forgotten this fact). The length and thickness of the blade (over 1/8" thick, but less than 1/4") gives it a feeling of power, while the shape and balance gives it grace. This is not a working knife, this is a fighting knife. I'll take it camping and try it out on some things, but it isn't designed for chopping or sawing or anything else. Still, it has the feel of a knife that could do any job you threw at it at least pretty well.

Insight Arcturus:
This is probably the coolest flashlight ever (picture shows the new version from, especially for the price. After doing an unconscionable amount of research on flashlights, I finally decided on this one. It's about $125 depending on where you can find it, which puts it at about half to one third the cost of a lot of tactical flashlights on the market. It's about 6 inches long, made of aluminum, with a knurled exterior that gives a firm, comfortable grip. It's activated by a tail-cap switch, and different modes are available all from the single tail-cap. You push once and release to go into bright mode, and it will stay on until you push the button again. A half-push gives you momentary activation. A quick double-push gives you a freakishly bright strobe. A push and hold will turn on bright but quickly dim to a very nice level for reading or finding your way in the dark. The battery is rechargeable, and you get about 2.5-3 hours of bright light or a whopping 300 hours of dim light from one charge. The aluminum face is beveled, giving an aggressive striking surface in close quarters, but the back end isn't sharp at all so you don't stab yourself trying to grab it out of your pocket. It also has an available long-gun mount and momentary switch. It's also waterproof to 15 feet. With the features, quality of construction, run time and sheer blinding power (about 125-150 lumens in bright mode) you would be looking at a $300 price tag from most other manufacturers. Most of those aren't rechargeable or LED, either. Really just a fantastic flashlight for anyone who wants something small and light enough to be hooked on a belt, but powerful enough to throw a beam out to a couple hundred yards or completely blind an intruder in your home.

More to come!


Wow! Well, I haven't kept a blog in a while. I wonder if I'll stick with this one or not. Time will tell, I suppose. Anyway, here I am. I'll no doubt be pulling over old entries from my other places of posting for a while, with some new stuff thrown in for good measure.

Please feel free to comment with questions or even actual comments and I'll try to get back to you. I'm planning on using this as a place to post links to articles, items and sites that may require some explanation, so don't be shy.