29 August 2016

Baklava V 1.0

Sometimes there just isn’t any place to put stuff, so it goes here.
This was my first attempt to make this dish and I wound up margin two other recipes plus making some changes of my own.

For reference see:

And my changes all go under the heading: “Prefers Stronger Flavors”

  • 1package, 40 sheets, phylo dough, brought to room temperature
  • 2 1/2 Sticks of butter
  • 1lb (about 4 cups) Walnuts
  • 1c Salty nuts.(Optional - I used Smokehouse Almonds)
  • 2 tsp Ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp Ground cardamon
  • 1/2 tsp Ground cloves
  • 2c Honey
  • 1/2 c Sugar
  • 3/4 c water
  • 2 Tbsp Lemon Juice
  • 3 tsp Vanilla 

  1. Preheat over to 325°
  2. Make Nuts:
    1. Combine walnuts and (optional) salty nuts in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped but don’t overdo it.
    2. Mix in the cinnamon, cardamon, and cloves and set aside.
  3. Make the Syrup
    1. Combine honey, sugar, water, lemon juice, vanilla and 1/2c of button in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium high heat.
    2. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally and ensuring the sugar gets dissolved.
    3. Set aside and allow to cool.
  4. Make the thing
    1. Melt 2 cups of butter and keep warm enough to stay melted.
    2. Unroll the phylo dough and trim as needed to fit in a 9X13 pan.
    3. Butter the bottom and sides of your pan.
    4. Lay out one sheet of dough and brush lightly with melted butter. Repeat dough/butter/dough until you have 10 stacked and buttered sheets.
    5. Spread 1/5 of the nuts over the dough, about 3/4 cups.
    6. Continue layering the buttered dough and nuts in 5-sheet groups and finish with a 10-sheet top. when you’re done you’ll have the following pattern:
  • 10 sheets of buttered dough
  • 1/5 nuts
  • 5 sheets of buttered dough
  • 1/5 nuts
  • 5 sheets of buttered dough
  • 1/5 nuts
  • 5 sheets of buttered dough
  • 1/5 nuts
  • 5 sheets of buttered dough
  • 1/5 nuts
  • 10 sheets of buttered dough on top
  1. Cut the pastry length-wise into four equal strips
  2. Then cut diagonally into diamonds. I made 7 diagonal cuts but just make fewer for bigger pieces, or more form smaller pieces.
  3. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hr 15min or until top and exposed nuts are golden brown and toasty.
  4. Remove from the over and immediately start pouring the cooled syrup over the hot pastry - you’ll hear it sizzle and this prevents the pastry from getting soggy. Pour all of the syrup evenly across the top.
  5. Let baklava cool for several hours uncovered and at room temperature as the syrup penetrate and soaks into everything.
  6. Store for up to two weeks at room temperature and only loosely covered.

I admit I was reluctant to try this recipe as I’d heard how difficult it could be but in hindsight it wasn’t bad at all. Maybe a little tedious with the phylo layering but still not that bad AND well worth it! This came out really well and honestly was the best baklava I’ve ever had. But I say that suspecting the real issue was freshness and not some superior recipe.

I note that Pioneer Woman suggests only buttering every-other later of dough and I wound up switching from every layer to every other about half way up and I think she’s right. So long as you’re not stingy with the butter, every other layer seemed to work just fine and save a significant amount of time.

I also note that I added salty nuts to my mixture because I’m always a fan of that sweet+salty thing though in the final product I can’t taste the salt…so I may adjust that in the next version. I also add a fair bit more seasonings to the nuts, particularly cardamon. Following these recipes I just couldn’t taste any real spices after mixing so I added and was very happy with the result.

Have fun!

09 May 2016

Chicken Pot Pie V1.0

Sometimes there just isn’t any place to put stuff, so it goes here.
I made this over the weekend and it was particularly good, and fairly easy, so I want to remember it.

Easy Ingredients:

  • 2 boxes (4 crusts) deli pie crusts
  • 2 carrots chopped

Normal Ingredients: 
  • 2 stalks celery chopped
  • 4 leeks sliced and beheaded
  • 4 small to medium potatoes cubed
  • 4 c chicken bullion or just water if you’re hardcore (see step 5 below)
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 Tbsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seed
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp sage
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 c flour


  1. Heat over to 400°
  2. Put bottom crust into 1 or 2 pie plates and chill in refrigerator.
  3. Pull all the meat of the chicken discarding (or eating) the skin.
  4. Chop 2/3 of the chicken into daily big chunks and the other 1/3 into little bits.
  5. (optional) If you’re hardcore wrap and tie the bones in cheesecloth and put in 4 cups of hot water. Otherwise use 4 c of chicken broth or bullion.
  6. Put the vegetables in the bullion/water and bring to a soft boil. Simmer for 15 minutes until carrots are tender but not mush.
  7. Strain vegetables and keep the broth. Discard the bones if you wen that way.
  8. Combine flour, spices and 1/2 c of broth in the same pot and mix until smooth.
  9. Add 3 more cups of broth and heat over medium until bubbling and thickened.
  10. Add the vegetables and chopped chicken and mix all ingredients thoroughly. This is when you want to taste and adjust any seasonings, especially the salt and pepper - I like a lot of pepper.
  11. Divide the mixture in half. You can fit two pies or freeze some.
  12. Add the top pie crust, crimp shut, slice several vents in crust.
  13. Bake for 45 min or until browned.
  14. I suggest you let it rest and cool for 10-15 minutes for the gravy to thicken and prevent lava burns.

12 March 2016

Thinking About Trains

My work requires that I go on the road occasionally. Not traveling salesman level stuff but 3 or 4 times a year for maybe 3-6 days at a time. Like most folks I fly hither and yon with all that modern air travel has come to entail: the rush, the risk,the parking, the lines, the cramp and the crunch. I had only been on three or four planes prior to 9-11 so it hadn't ever come to be normal, which is to say, I don't really know what it was like before that fateful day. As it is, I experience these trips, or rather the 'getting there' part of each trip, as purely utilitarian and defined exclusively by cost and time efficiency.

But I'm writing this blog on a train, still an hour from my destination and 18 hours south of where I started. It's something I've been meaning to try for years but just never got around to it

Last night, in the community dining car, I met a man who was born in Nigeria, studied in England and now works in Silicon Valley. He said that we had taken all the fun out of traveling. Across the table was a man who spent 8 months of the year with a mobile kitchen servicing the hundreds of Hot Shots and Smoke Jumpers who attack wildfires all around the country and he just couldn't stand the restriction and the pace of airports and planes. I heard their stories and thought of the dozens of terminals I've been in over the last ten years.

Riding the train costs you something. It takes longer, schedules are less flexible, and it can cost more depending on how you do the math. I don't dispute that trains are less quick and efficient than planes but what about the experience?

From. UX perspective I found the train ride orders of magnitude more enjoyable, more productive and less stressful. The scenery was fantastic, the ride and the bed were comfortable and the food (included in the price by the way) was remarkably good. From another, more personal angle, where were fond of saying "it's the journey, not the destination, that matters" then I slap myself and ask "How have I missed this?"

Perhaps it's too soon to say I'm a convert but I did have a fantastic experience, one I'm anxious to repeat, and in contrast to the comment of my Fellow traveler from Nigeria, traveling was fun again.

www.amtrak.com didn't pay me a dime...but maybe they should. :)

01 March 2016


In 2 Corinthians Paul talks about something called "Strongholds" in the context of spiritual warfare. 

"...For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ."

John Paul Jackson has a neat series on Strongholds and I've been thinking a lot about something he says. As a quick get-up-to-speed step, strongholds are understood as those habits of thought and motivation that get into our heads that are not under Gods influence or control. They are not spiritual entities themselves though they are initiated by, nurtured by, and exploited by spiritual entities. Or put another way, just like the name implies, while a stronghold is not a demon, the woolyboogers build 'em and they live there. Jackson makes several interesting observations including that the defining issue isn't actually one of open or obvious evil but rather rebellion. These are the thoughts that we hang on to stubbornly and won't submit to Christ. We could be thinking the "right" thoughts in an ethical sense but still be doing so in willful disobedience. But what has me thinking tonight is something else.

Jackson says that in his experience these strongholds will almost always dissolve as soon as they've served their purpose. And example he gives is how affairs work. Almost all affairs that lead to a divorce include some element like "This person who is not my spouse loves or understands me like my spouse does not - so I'm going to be with them." But something like 90% of these cases end with the adulterous relationship dissolving in 5 years or less and more than half in less than 1 year. (His stats, not mine, though anecdotal evidence suggests he may be on to something.)

He suggests that the reason this happens is like so: the line of thinking that lead to the affair in the first place was, by definition, a stronghold. It's purpose for being built was to wreck a marriage. Once that's done, the stronghold is abandoned and with person wakes up thinking "what have I done?" But what would that process look like?

One thing this current election has done has been to get me thinking about things in ways I haven't in a while. It's made me reexamine long-held stances and double-check established thought habits given new insight or information. But thinking about thinking is hard. Near the end  of The Big Short Christian Bale's character is at the end of his rope and says, "I may be wrong but I just can't see how...I guess nobody sees how they're wrong or they wouldn't think that way." It's this subtle, almost thrown away line but it is SOOO deep. Every single one of us thinks we are always right - if we thought we were were wrong we'd change our minds (confidence vs. doubt being something different) but it's had work to examine the habits of our own thinking which is where we might discern the outlines of a stronghold...or start to see it crumble.

Any good sales person knows that despite what we say humans make most decisions emotionally. We generally do what we feel and then back fill a rational explanation later. Science has been able to recently "prove" what those in the business of humans have known forever, both for the good and the bad, that the heart is really central and the mind only pretends to be in control. That shouldn't be taken to mean that we can't rationally and deliberately make decisions, we most certainly can, it's just that it's hard work and more often than not we lack the motivation. And when emotions run high the trains of thought needed to support a person make steep walls in the mind, walls mortared together in the presence of pain and so tall they become wickedly hard to see over or walk out of. 

I had dinner with a fellow a short time ago who had been nursing a grudge for several years and I asked him, "What have you been so mad about all this time?" And he said, "...to be honest, I don't really know. I'm not sure that I ever knew." I can't help but wonder, is that what it looks like when a stronghold has been long abandoned by the forces that created it but the prisoners locked inside are only just now getting the news? 

I reckon every stronghold represents, in one analysis, a tremendous investment of emotional energy. We build them (or allow them to built around us?) when we believe we need to defend ourselves against...something. As those walls get higher and higher and they cost us more and more there's a kind of inertia that gets harder and harder to overcome. Intertidal is probably the wrong word but I don't know a better one - it's that sense that says, "I've invested so much in this thing, to abandon it is to admit that the investment was a mistake..."

 As I'm writing this I realize that, of course, this idea goes in the opposite direction as well. The bible may use the word "stronghold" to denote unhealthy, ungodly patters of thought but there are healthy, godly habits of thought too and they serve basically analogous functions. How do we tell the difference? Are our thought-habits demonic strongholds or are they heavenly towers? I expect there is no easy answer to that but one clue is probably embedded in that thought from earlier about a stronghold being built for a purpose and with a goal. As the first course of stone is being laid do we have the presence of mind to ask, "Where is this going? What will this lead to? What's the logical outcome if I continue building this wall?" Which is just another way of saying that we tell a tree by its fruit.

But back to the question at hand - how do we experience or observe the abandonment and removal of a spiritual stronghold? 

I suspect one of the unexamined aspects of these strongholds is how they effect people around us. When we are busy erecting these walls around our hearts and our thinking our friends and family can’t help but be caught up to some degree. Thinking of the affair example above, as a person’s mind starts to wander down that path, often over the course of years, people will notice and quite often they will take either a supportive stance, ”You’re right, she never understood you!” or a contrary one, “Dude, what are you thinking?” (see Heb 12:15 on this idea) So when the stronghold starts to crumble these “child strongholds”, which are far weaker than the “parent” may evaporate almost without notice - like a fog burning off that leaves no trace of how it subtly effected one’s thinking. If the poisoned thinking caused that kind of subtle weirdness and distance between people it might disappear overnight with few to realize it was ever there in the first place. Relationships that may have slowly frayed are suddenly refreshed, though likely with a kind of “that was weird” hangover.

For the victim of the stronghold however, it’s not like that. We’re all familiar with “buyer’s remorse” and I bet in many cases that experience is exactly the result of a (generally small) stronghold. We become committed to a train of thinking that we know to be faulty and when the unwise purchase is done - all the energy that convinced us to buy that thing dissipates leaving us with the bill. In fact I’ve heard that exact term applied to the ‘run off with the secretary’ divorces many times. It’s the same regret but with a much higher price tag. Coming down from there involves painful humility, saying “I was wrong” to at least yourself and probably other folks as well and then the potentially crippling consequences, or fruit, that the stronghold bore.

The only way to make such a thing right is to take the biblical advice to tear that stronghold down and discard every singe stone. Or, to use the other germane metaphor, to tear the tree up by it’s roots. But in practice very few people do that - it’s just too painful. So instead they try to take the stronghold down one stone at a time, checking and rechecking if it’s come down far enough. There’s a built-in defensiveness that comes with strongholds. We build them when we feel threatened - whether by others, by life, or by God. Something in us doesn't want to change, doesn’t want the light, doesn’t want to hear what God has to say and so we construct a safe place for our rebellious impulse. To abandon these structures is a mighty effort and takes enormous courage…and it is utterly necessary. When we find ourselves saying things like, “God wants me to be happy.”, “Those outdated scriptures don't apply to me.”, “God will understand.” we are likely in the middle of building and defending a stronghold and we are likely being aided by the enemy. When he abandons the project though - it can make us feel even more defensive because now the angry fire in our gut that  at least kept us warm is now gone and we feel more alone than ever.

Some folks “wake up” and state the long road of restoration but others just double-down and the defensive perimeter grows wider and wider and wider until no thought is subject to Christ, no action is submitted to the throne, and the poor soul wanders through life blaming everybody else for their loss.

27 February 2016

Time Travel and Cruise Ships

The kids and I watched the old Time Machine movie the other night, and it's shortly after the announcement that gravity waves have been really detected at the LIGO thing and it has physics and time rolling around in the back of my head here. But this post is for record keeping more than anything else, don't expect fully formed thoughts or cogent arguments...you'll be lucky if I spell check.
-> onward!

Imagine you're standing on the deck of a cruise ship along with all the chairs and toys and several other people. Now the ship starts to list just a little to port. Some items on that deck, like the bottle of sun tan oil that's on its side, will start to roll toward what is now effectively "downhill." As the ship lists more and more each object and each person will feel the gravitational pull toward the port rail. Some are more stable than others, some are bolted to the deck. What if the "arrow of time" is a little like that? What if, not unlike Einstein's insight that gravity is best understood as the geometry of warped space, that time is also "geometric" in that it reflects the fact that our universe lists toward the future? In such a world then moving toward the future is simply the path of least resistance like a ball rolling downhill.

If that deck on the ship has just a few people on it then a determined man might plant his feet and stand still - fighting the portward pull. If the deck is crowded shoulder to shoulder with people then the downward pressure of all the "uphill" people would make such a choice harder and harder, he'd be carried along with the falling crowd. In that case, the way we try to walk across a river might be a better picture. When the water is slow, or only to our ankles, we find ourselves fully capable of fording it. But as it deepens or goes faster the downhill energy of the river is transferred to us and we get swept away. If the whole universe is heading downstream and the constant collisions of atoms and subatomic particles pushes us with it then it would suggest going with the flow would take less energy than going against it.

How is it that motion in the three normal directions is linked to the speed of time? If I can say that going faster slows time down I can also say that going slower speeds time up. How can motion/speed be linked to time? 

What if entropy isn't a result of time but the other way around? What if it is the regular degradation of order that creates the slope of the ships deck? 

26 February 2016

Sanders, Socialism, and The Big Short

There are so many things going on in this election that have forced me to think along totally different axes, it's been a heck of a ride.

One of those has been the rise of Bernie Sanders and the sudden and widespread (or at least openly widespread) embrace of Socialism in the US. When Sanders came on the stage I thought there was exactly zero chance he'd be elected because Americans would never elect a socialist or anybody reasonably associated with that word. For all my life that's been an accusation in US politics, not a label. Now my best guess as of today is that he still wont be the Democratic candidate but it's not at all settled and no matter it got waaaaaay closer than I would have ever imagined.

Without debating whether or not he's really a socialist or not it has given me reason to think about why socialism is suddenly popular when it was so recently anathema and if I'm honest with myself I have to admit that several of the things Bernie is pissed at - I'm pissed at too - a lot!

Here's the thing - I believe in capitalism. Not because it's perfect but because it's the best option. But capitalism goes bad from time to time and I think one of those times is right now. I want to point people to The Big Short (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d80xVJC4pso) which was a truly fantastic movie about an incredibly boring topic - gross fraud and negligence driven by staggering greed. It's a true-story movie (more or less) about the profound douchebaggery surrounding the 2008ish housing bubble blow up. You come out of that movie wanting very much for heads to roll and people to go to jail but instead it tells you how nobody went to jail (except one poor little patsy) and it's all starting over again - it's infuriating. And several years ago I saw Wall Street 2 and I had as similar feeling though that felt a lot more fictional so I got over it quicker.

When I see that kind of thing stacked alongside a whole bunch of other things like CEO pay, $110M in Jeb!'s SuperPAC, the impact of Bernie Madoff and on and on and on then I find myself on common ground with Berners. The financial system feels deeply broken to me right now and in ways that deeply prick at my sense of right and wrong.

That said, I split with Sanders sharply when it comes to solutions. Yes, capitalism goes bad and when it does it causes real damage but socialism goes bad too and when it does - it goes a lot worse. But I'm not writing to debate the merits of the two economic systems but rather to acknowledge that I find common cause with Berners in a growing frustration with corruption and a financial system that looks to me as if it's lost its center and I never expect to see things that way.