Thursday, August 11, 2011

Current Recipe Favorite

Doing something a little different tonight - I'm not going off on a rant!

It's not that I don't have anything to rant about . . . I do, plenty of things . . . so much rage. But, they're all pretty much directly work related, and wouldn't make much sense without my providing a shit-ton of back-story. And that would mean a greatly increased chance of someone around here coming across it and figuring out who wrote it. That would be bad. So, it's give out all that information and risk getting busted, give a cleaned up version which doesn't make a whole lot of sense, or write something else.

So, I'm going for the something else tonight. Don't worry, I'm sure I'll have more rants which can be published here soon.

So anyway, tonight's topic is cooking.

I'm the one who cooks in our house. My wife freely admits that she can prepare dinner, but that's different from cooking. I cook. Not every night, but often enough.

Tonight's recipe was a baked chicken cordon bleu.

Start by taking two chicken breasts, trim them and use a good sharp knife to open a pocket inside the breast (I find it's best to work from the thick end of the chicken breast). You want to get within about a 1/4 inch of the edge of the chicken breast so you'll have plenty of room to stuff in the ham and cheese. You'll want to do this slowly and carefully; it's really easy to end up cutting yourself in the process (I haven't, but I know plenty of people who have). Once you finished opening the chicken breasts, pat them dry with some paper towels. I know the traditional way of doing this is to pound the chicken flat and then roll the whole thing up; unless you really know what you're doing and have the right kind of mallet, you're more apt to just shred the chicken, so I like my way more.

Now is a good time to turn on the oven to 350F.

To stuff the chicken breasts, use about a 1/4 lb of deli ham, sliced very thin; use just a simple, off-the-bone or black forest ham - you don't want to use a honey backed ham because it'll taste weird. You'll need about 4 ham slices per chicken breast (this is why you want them very thin). Place a slice of cheese between the ham slices, so it's 2 slices of ham, 1 slice of cheese, and 2 more slices of ham. Traditionally, you would use swiss cheese for cordon bleu, but I've actually found that we prefer provolone. Fold the stack in half, length-wise, and carefully slide it into the pocket you cut in the chicken breasts. Make sure to get it as far in the chicken as possible; it'll cut down on cheese leakage during baking.

For the breading, I use a gluten-free bread crumb from Schar, but that's because the wife has a gluten sensitivity and these are the best bread crumbs I've found (really, they are very good, even if you're not a gluten-free person, you'll probably like these). Sprinkle out a bunch of bread crumbs on a plate and then add garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, some dried parsley, and a little bit of grated parmesan cheese. Mix it together really well. (You may notice here, I'm not giving any specific measurements for these ingredients; there's a reason for this - I don't measure, I just kind of go with whatever looks good.)

Coat the stuffed chicken breasts in egg. I use egg-beaters-type eggs, but you can also use real eggs beaten with a little water. Some people will tell you to use milk for this kind of thing. It certainly works, but you really need at least 2% milk, otherwise the bread crumbs won't really stick. So, get a good coating of egg on the chicken and then gently roll it in the bread crumbs, and I really do mean gently. If you try to really pack the bread crumbs on, the end results are kind of gummy and not real appetizing. You want just enough bread crumbs to cover the chicken, so go easy and gently shake off any extra.

Place the breaded chicken on a broiler pan with the grill piece, which has been lightly sprayed with non-stick spray. A lot of people want to do baked chicken in a shallow pan or baking dish. I don't like do that. When you use a pan or dish, all of the fluid which comes out in the cooking process just sits in the bottom of the pan and soaks the bread crumbs on the bottom of the chicken, and when you take it out of the pan, they just fall off - kind of defeats the purpose, huh? By going with a broiler pan, those fluids drain off and the bread crumbs stay a lot drier and crispier.

Bake at 350F for 30-45 minutes depending on how big and/or thick the chicken breasts are. When the chicken is cooked all the way, take it out of the oven and let it sit for about 5 minutes. The juices will redistribute in the chicken and the cheese will cool just enough that it doesn't flow all over the plate like white molten lava when cut in.

All in all, it's a pretty easy recipe with some very tasty results. One of the best things about this recipe is that it can be easily modified for other things. Want to do a simple crunchy baked chicken? Same process except without the slicing, rolling, and stuffing. Add a lot more pepper and a healthy dose of cayenne to the bread crumbs, use a sandwich size piece of chicken, and again skip the slicing, rolling, and stuffing, and you've got a home-make, gluten-free version of Wendy's spicy chicken sandwich. Use chicken tenders or slice the chicken breasts into long, thin strips, and you've got chicken fingers. We end up doing one these on a regular basis, and always enjoy it!

Monday, July 25, 2011

An Open Letter to HOAs

Dear Home Owners' Associations,

First of all, I would like to say that I can respect a lot of what you do. When properly administered and run, HOAs can provide a wide range of benefits to a neighborhood: maintaining property values; making sure that everyone takes care of their property; providing amenities to residents (pools, parks, snow shoveling, etc). All of these are very good things.

But.

All too often, I see HOAs which go off on major power trips and just end up looking stupid and petty. Walking around with rulers, measuring people's grass length. Trying to dictate what kind/size of pets people can have. Telling military veterans how/when they can fly the American flag! Telling kids they can't have a lemonade stand - on their own property! (And, yes, these are in fact all real examples.)

It seems that some of you HOAs need to be reminded of the real purpose of HOAs. It's NOT to tell people how they should live. Rather, it's making a neighborhood someplace people want live.

Want to know what will happen if you keep being so draconian? People will move out, which means property values might decline and you don't want that.

So I ask, you, please, pull your collective heads out of your asses and go searching through your attic or basement to find you ability to use reason, logic, and compassion.

In other words, quit being dicks!

[And, no, I don't live in a HOA-controlled neighborhood, but I've certainly dealt with enough of them and there have been a rash of recent news stories about incidents like those I listed above - and I felt something needed to be said.]

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I've Got A Pledge For Ya

Has anyone else noticed that there seem to be a lot of political pledges recently? They are especially prominent on the political right. Groups hoping (and all too often, succeeding) to control and direct the politicians and the political process are using these pledges as basically preemptive blackmail. While the groups and the details may change, the pledges all boil down to politicians saying "I will promise to do what you want because I think you're going to help me get/stay in office." And, unfortunately, the politicians who sign such pledges seem to actually be keeping them.

With all of that in mind, I decided to begin my take over by creating my own pledge for politicians to sign.

The state of American politics has devolved to little more than self-aggrandizing, mud-slinging and pointing fingers, meaning that important shit isn't getting done. In an effort to help get American politics back to a point of productivity and sanity, I, [insert your name here], do hereby pledge to the following:

1. I pledge to become educated on the things I vote on or sign; I will not vote on or sign something without actually having read it. That way I don't look like a jackass later when I have to try and unsign it.

2. I pledge to use reason and logic when considering pieces of legislation and policy, not just react to the emotions of those I think are (or someday might be) my constituents.

3. I pledge to actually focus on the issues while campaigning, and not simply resort to attacking my opponent.

4. I pledge to accept the fact that people will disagree with me, and I acknowledge that they have every right to do so.

5. I pledge to remember that just because someone disagrees with me does not mean that they are the enemy and are trying to "hijack the nation", despite what certain radio hosts and cable "news" programs might claim.

6. I pledge to accept the fact that sometimes I will be wrong; I'll admit when I am wrong and not try to spin it so I'm right(ish).

7. I pledge to actually listen to those who are experts on a particular subject and will give their views serious consideration even (and especially) if they differ from my own; I will not substitute editorials or opinion pieces for real research.

8. I pledge to own up to my fuck-ups and to try to fix them. And I mean right away, not only after it becomes clear that I'm not going to get away with it.

9. I pledge to remember that I work for ALL the people, not just the ones who have or maybe someday will vote for or donate money to me and/or my party.

10. I pledge to treat my fellow politicians with genuine respect; politicians are people too (or at least can be).

11. I pledge work WITH my fellow politicians and not AGAINST them, regardless of party affiliation. (But I promise to never say "Can't we all just get along?" - ever.)

12. I pledge to remember that things will very often require negotiation and compromise from ALL sides; compromise in not a four-letter word.

13. I pledge to do what is right, not what is simply politically convenient or advantageous.

14. I pledge to remove my head from my ass; that way I can hear better and less of what comes out of my mouth will be complete shit.

15. I pledge to quit signing asinine pledges which only make it harder to things done and result in political gridlock.

If I don't hold to these items, I deserve to have my ass tossed out of office.


Please feel free to send this to any and all of your politicians!

Friday, June 03, 2011

I'm Not a Grumpy Old Bastard . . . Not Yet Anyway

"Hey, you kids! Get off my lawn!"

Yeah, I kinda feel like I just said that.

Directly across the street from our house is an asbestos abatement company (not bad neighbors actually, as they don't store anything hazardous on site and mostly operate at hours when we're not home). They keep several big rig trailers on site.

And tonight I heard a bunch of the neighborhood kids playing in the area and series of loud bangs. No big deal; the kids in the neighborhood play around the area all the time. They're kids - that's what they do. For fuck sake, that's what I did growing up - run around the neighborhood making noise, quite often after dark.

The problem this time was that they were making noise by playing on top of one of the trailers.

Now, it's not the noise that was the cause of concern; I had been watching a hockey game, so noise wasn't a big deal. It was the playing on top of the trailer that was concerning. And not so much for the worry that they were going to fall off, but rather that they were going to fall off and then there was going to be a lot more noise and bother from the EMTs showing up to tend to the particular idiot who had inevitably fallen off and cracked their head open or shattered a limb.

So, yeah, I was the grump old bastard who called the cops to get them chased off. The worst part is, if I'm going to be the grumpy old bastard yelling at kids, I should at least be on the porch in a rocking chair, with a shotgun, a bottle of whiskey and a carton of cigarettes. Unfortunately, of those five items, the only two I currently have are the porch and the bottle of whiskey. No rocking chair, don't own a gun, and don't smoke anymore. And I don't see all of those things coming together until I'm at least 80 (at that point, I don't think I'm going to be greatly worried about lung cancer or liver failure.

Then, and only then, will I truly be the grumpy old bastard!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Epic Survey Fail

I encountered a survey yesterday purportedly on "religion and spirituality" in this region. Given that we pagans are relatively few in numbers in this area (although there do seem to be a fair number of us around, enough to be statistically significant in a study like this), I figured I'd fill it out and help represent the pagans.

Yeah, not such a good idea. I've spent a good portion of yesterday and today being annoyed at the whole thing.

This particular survey is being done by the local University, and I happen to know the professor who's overseeing the project. And I must say, I'm disappointed; I know it's your grad students doing the actual survey, but it's your bloody job as the overseeing professor to make sure the study is being done right.

And. You. Have. Failed.

Despite the fact that it's advertised as a survey on "religion and spirituality," it's really a survey on "Christian, atheistic, and agnostic beliefs" in the community. The survey had such a western-monotheistic bias that they really can't justify calling it survey on "religion and spirituality." There was one - ONE - reference to any kind of polytheistic belief system. The one semi-polytheistic system they included was Hinduism; and that was in a question about how you think various religions/beliefs have a positive/negative/no impact on the world! The only other time they even came close that someone MIGHT have a view which falls outside of the western-monotheistic paradigm was when they said that "Higher Power" could be substituted for "God" (yes, "God" with the capital "G") "if necessary" . . . and that didn't happen until 90% of the way through the survey!

And then there were the questions on participating as part of a congregation. It quickly became clear that what they meant by "congregation" was "people who get together once a week, get preached at, and sing together." You're supposed to be academics! Do your damned research and figure out that congregation (in the religious context, anyway) simply means "a gathering, assemblage, or company" or "collecting in one body or mass" (not "Catholic mass" by the way). And that's according to the OED; religion doesn't even come into the picture until definition number SIX, and the way they're using it isn't until number SEVEN! And that's not even to mention the fact that MOST religions don't USE "congregation" - that's really only a Christian thing (and not even all forms of Christianity use it). Quit imposing your assumptions and understandings on the rest of us - or at the very least state them upfront so I know who/what I'm dealing with! Gah!

Here's the real problem - it's not they survey itself (although I'm still really annoyed at it; it's the underlying assumption that it reveals. And this particular assumption is one that I seem to be seeing a lot of recently (or maybe it's simply the fact that now that I've noticed, I can recognize it for what it is). It's the assumption that you and your family/friends are "normal", therefore most people are very similar to you. And if most people are similar to you, they think and act in similar ways. Sure, there are going to be differences, but when you look at it, most people are going to fall under the category of "normal." But since you're defining "normal" on your life and experiences, it's a hugely subjective standard - one which simply cannot hold up and is just . . . well, fucking wrong! Anyone or anything which falls too far outside of your frame of reference either gets marginalize or missed all together. It's not that it's ignored; to be ignored, there has to be at least some recognition that it's there to begin with. In the case of this survey, I'm guessing the thought process when something like: "Okay, since most people are Christian of some kind, we'll focus on them. But of course we want to include those of Jewish and Islamic faiths. And don't forget the atheists and agnostics. Who else is there? Oh, yeah, 'Eastern' religions - Hindus and Buddhists! Is that it? Yeah, I think that's about it."

See the problem here? Kinda missed a few religions here. Even if you don't want to go into all the various denominations and subgroups, you've missed several of the major religion/belief categories: the various forms of paganism, Native American beliefs, Bahai, Confucianism, Shinto, Jainism, Taoism, Vodun, Roma/Romani, Hare Krishna, Sikhism, Santeria, Scientology . . . should I continue? Or have I made my point?

I'm hoping it's that they simply stopped thinking; it's better than the alternative, which is they followed up "Hindus and Buddhists!" with "We don't have to worry about anyone else because there aren't enough to matter." If that was what they thought, I'm going to have to go get the cricket bat and "inform" them of just how much one person can matter.