My thoughts on life


One of the joys of home ownership is the projects that come with it. I’m sure these are the same projects that drive some people to rent or move from new house to new house their whole lives, but I enjoy them. They’re fun to plan, can be challenging to execute, and the results are usually very rewarding.

In our old house, Ethan and I tackled everything from tiling and painting to replacing fixtures, installing shelves, hanging doors and repairing lots and lots of plaster. This house is quite a bit older, but was also much better taken care of. We haven’t even finished unpacking but we’ve already got some projects in progress. They are so far on a smaller scale, but generate the same satisfaction. Continue reading →

April 26, 2014 Home Improvement ,

Living without a microwave

Around 6 years ago, I bought and moved into a house. In a very short time frame, Ethan and I noticed that a) the house did not have a microwave and b) we were having a hard time living without one. So we went to Home Depot, bought stuff to make a shelf, then Ethan built a shelf over our oven, and we put a microwave on it. The microwave lived there happily for years (and is still there). I remember feeling like I was really deprived without the microwave and I was super relieved to be able to reheat some food in it for the first time.

Fast forward to today: we just bought another house, and moved in. Ethan has been here about a month ago, and I’ve been here 3 weeks. It took me a few days to even notice that we didn’t have a microwave. So far I don’t miss it.

So I have to ask myself: what changed?

First, I noticed over the last year that we were not using our microwave very often. What brought it home for me was that we had cleaners coming every other week, and the invariably put the turntable back in wrong. I would notice the first time I used the microwave after they cleaned, but sometimes that was over a week after they were last in the house. We were only using our microwave about once per week.

I think this is partially because our diets have changed quite a bit. In the last year I have changed to eating a lot more whole foods, including lots of raw fruits and vegetables. Simply having a huge supply of these things in the house means that Ethan is eating more of them too.

The other reason we were less dependent on our microwave is that we bought a new oven, and we had more counter space. When we first moved into our Minneapolis home, there was barely any usable counter space, and the oven and stove were horrible. We had a large cutting board set up on two burners and that was our primary food prep space. Once we replaced the oven, reheating food on the stove was less of a chore. When we had more space to prepare our food, we could use 4 burners instead of two, and it got even easier.

For the last few weeks, I’ve had several hot lunches that I heated in a small frying pan (stews and soups, mostly). I also toasted (and burned) a number of pitas and tortillas on the stove. I’m grateful to have my toaster back for the pitas, but I’ll continue to heat tortillas on the stove. I can’t think of a reason I need a microwave now.

April 18, 2014 Personal

Three Second Neutral Response

I recently watched Blackfish, a documentary about orca whales in SeaWorld. Tangential to the contents of the documentary, one of the former trainers briefly mentioned the use of a three second neutral response, which I found very interesting. The concept is that after an animal is asked to perform a trick, they are either given a food reward for a successful trick, or a three second neutral response for an unsuccessful trick.

So far as I can tell, the intent is to clearly indicate “you did not do what I wanted well enough” without punishment or expression of anger, frustration or disappointment. It simply involves not expressing any emotion through speech or body language.

I tried looking up more information about this as a training technique, but most results were just discussing or reviewing Blackfish. The idea stuck in my head though, and I began to imagining scenarios where it would be fun to try. Whenever someone tells a bad joke: three second neutral response. When someone asks me “do you want bacon on that veggie burger, har har har”: three second neutral response. When someone comes to my door and asks for $5 because [story that doesn’t really make any sense]: three second neutral response. Basically any time someone does something you just find disappointing and obnoxious, rather than dignify it with a response, simply do nothing for three seconds.

In seriousness, I did actually try it on Ludo the day after I watched the documentary. At night he sleeps in his own room, and sometimes he goes in right away when asked, and sometimes he freezes and growls and refuses to go in without being forced. So far, I can’t tell what the difference is, in his mind, between those times. On that particular night, he chose the freeze and growl option when I asked him to go in his room. I was very frustrated and tired, and his reaction made me angry, but I know from experience that yelling or otherwise expressing my anger just makes him nervous and more uncooperative, so I tried to relax my face and shoulders, and slowly counted to three. After that pause, I gently asked him again to go to his room. He tentatively walked over and, resigned, went in his room.

I strongly recommend everyone add this to their repertoire of reactions. It’s a good way of not feeding the trolls, and might actually be an effective training technique, with animals and people.

February 2, 2014 Humor

Vegan French Toast Recipe

Ethan’s coworker recently gave him a gift of maple syrup. That, combined with the almost full jug of maple syrup we have on hand is excessive for two people who don’t eat pancakes with any regularity. I decided to make some french toast this morning, to use some of the syrup up. He’re the recipe, roughly:

  • 2 Tbsp ground flax
  • 6 Tbsp hot water
  • 1/2 Cup soy/nut/rice milk
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • dash of cinnamon
  • dash of nutmeg
  • 4 slices of bread, preferably stale
  • coconut or canola oil

Slowly mix the hot water into the flax until fully incorporated (it will get slimy, like eggs). Add the vegan milk, vanilla extract, cinnamon and nutmeg, and whisk until completely blended. Pour the mix into a shallow pan or 9″ x 9″ baking pan.

Heat a griddle or frying pan over medium-high heat. Add oil and wait for oil to shimmer. Quickly lay each slice of bread in the mixture and flip to coat both sides. Let any excess drip back into the pan and immediately put in the pan. If you can’t fit all four pieces of bread into the pan or griddle, wait to dip each slice until it’s ready to fry.

Cook each slice for 4 – 6 minutes on each side, until the coating is mottled brown and beginning to crisp. Serve immediately, with syrup, fruit or whatever toppings you enjoy!

I found that a non-stick skillet works best for this, but a well-seasoned cast iron pan would probably work equally well.

November 9, 2013 Recipes , ,

Salad Dressing Recipes

I’ve always liked eating salads, and since I make a lot of my own food, I have long wished I could make my own salad dressings. While I like the taste of bottled dressings, I’m always concerned by their ingredients. Many contain xanthan gum, high fructose corn syrup, hydrolyzed soy protein, or other ingredients I don’t generally feed myself.

I started by trying to mimic an Italian style dressing, because they seem so simple: oil, vinegar, herbs and spices. I tried a handful of recipes and found them all to be lacking. They were either bland or had strong flavors that were far from delicious. Then, a few months ago, a friend brought over some Trader Joe’s chickpea dressing. After looking at the ingredients, I realized it was basically watered down hummus. This was something I could work with.

I’ve been making my own hummus for years, because it’s so much less expensive than buying it pre-made, and I can add whatever flavors I want. Also, with a food processor, it is dead simple. So the next time I made a batch of hummus, I combined the following in a small glass jar (mine was leftover from sundried tomatoes):

  • 3 – 4 Tbsp of hummus (any flavor)
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp of fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp water
  • a pinch of salt
  • a few grinds of black pepper

Then I sealed the jar and shook it vigorously until the hummus completely dissolved. It resulted in a surprisingly creamy dressing and was enough to dress several salads. It kept just fine in the fridge in the same jar, for over a week (and then it was all used up). This dressing is very easy to modify by simply using different flavored hummus, or adding herbs, spices, or other flavoring liquids. I have since made a toasted sesame ginger version where I made hummus with ginger and sesame seeds, and added dark sesame oil to the dressing.

Yesterday I was inspired to make another dressing using a similar approach, and it was so good that after one bite, I got up, walked over to Ethan and forced him to try a bite of my salad. This dressing was based on a pesto recipe that I made a couple weeks ago. The recipe made about 1 full cup of pesto, which was more than we could use on pasta, spaghetti squash, and wax beans. Yesterday I took a tablespoon of the pesto and added a splash of pickle juice from some garlic dill pickles, and whisked them together with a fork. As I already said, the result was delicious. The best part is, the only fat in the dressing comes from the oil and nuts in the pesto, and neither the pickle juice nor the pesto contained any refined sugars.

The pesto recipe I used was given to me by a friend who got it from his CSA. The original recipe calls for carrot tops, because that week’s share came with carrots, tops included, but I used the same recipe using curly leaf parsley, to similar effect. It also called for parmesan cheese, but to make it vegan-friendly, I used this vegan parmesan subsitute. The resulting recipe was:

  • 1 cup packed curly leaf parsley (stems removed)
  • 6 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1/4 tsp kosher or fine sea salt
  • 3 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/4 cup vegan parmesan cheese

I combined ingredients in a small food processor and processed until grainy. This pesto is delicious when made into a dressing, or when tossed with some vegetables and pasta.



October 27, 2013 Recipes , ,

Running Gadgets

As a runner and a nerd, I like to combine technology with my running so I can get precious, precious data. When I started out, I used an interval timer and my fitbit. This didn’t tell me too much, just how many steps I took, a very approximate distance, and how long I was running. Later, I began  manually mapping my runs out on RunKeeper.com. This gave me a clearer idea of my distances, which I could combine with the time from the interval timer to figure out my pace more accurately. Finally, I got a smart phone and started using the RunKeeper app, and I haven’t looked back. I do still wear the fitbit, but I don’t look at the data for it very often, besides total steps and miles for the day.

Recently, I’ve been craving a way to see my current pace without pulling my phone out of my pocket. I use a running belt and my phone fits very snugly into it so it isn’t bouncing around while I run. Unfortunately this means that it’s not a simple act to pull out the phone, check my pace, and stuff it back into the belt. I can manage the act while still running, but it tends to slow me down, defeating the purpose of checking my pace in the first place.

I’ve heard of new smart watches that connect to a smart phone and can display information from apps on your wrist. This seemed perfect! I can just hook it up to my existing setup and read my current pace, win! I decided to read some reviews and see how well this worked for others. It turns out the Pebble ties to RunKeeper, but the reviews aren’t great. Apparently it only displays total time, total distance and average pace, and the display can’t be modified through settings. The reviews I read were both from several months ago, when the Pebble/RunKeeper link was first announced. I thought that given the complaints about the minimal functionality, an update may  have been released in the last four months. Especially since several new versions  of RunKeeper have been released since then, including one new major version. According to Pebble’s customer support site, users are still stuck with those three data points.

I guess it’s back to the drawing board. Maybe the time for a GPS watch is drawing nigh. I have a number of pace specific runs coming up over the next few weeks, so I will have to see how my current setup, combined with my mental pace estimator work to fill the gap.

September 23, 2013 Fitness , ,

Upcoming Events

I have a few busy weekends coming up. Next weekend I have both the Big Gay Race and Autumn Brew Review, both on the same day. The weekend after that, I’ll be in Seattle for the Tough Mudder. The following weekend, I’ll be in Black River Falls for a three day weaving class. Continue reading →

September 22, 2013 Personal, Travel , , ,

On Exercise and Weight Loss

Diets, nutrition and weight loss have been a long time interest of mine. I’m not sure why, as I have never been overweight, I’ve never had an eating disorder, and as far as I know, I’ve never been malnourished. I did adopt a vegetarian diet when I was twelve years old, and so I’ve spent the majority of my life defending a meatless diet to friends, family members and even doctors, which may have inspired me to learn more on the subject, but that doesn’t fully explain my fascination with diets and weight loss.

Before anyone gets concerned, I want to make it clear that my fascination with these things does not mean I put any of them into practice! I have never been on a weight loss diet, or any temporary fad diet. I did do a raw food cleanse for seven days last February, but the intention was to reset my palate, and see if my skin cleared up, not to lose weight. I am more interested in why I am not overweight, but so many people are, and what they can do to lose weight. My only interest in fad diets is how to debunk them so I can steer my friends away from them. Continue reading →

September 9, 2013 Fitness, Health , ,

Good Meatless Burger Recipe

The Pursuit

As a vegetarian, I am always on the lookout for a good veggie burger recipe. Store bought veggie burgers are okay, but they usually have one of two problems: they fall apart to mush when you cook and eat them, or they full of soy and are rubbery. On top of that, I don’t like buying heavily processed foods, especially if the ingredient list is long and full of things I can’t find in my kitchen. I want to know what’s in my food, and I want it to taste good.

Enter stage right: the food processor. I bought a food processor awhile ago, and the main reason was that I wanted to try to make my own meatless burgers. Since buying it I have found many uses for it and would replace it in an instant if it broke down. I consider it to be invaluable and I don’t know how I lived for so long without one in my kitchen.

As a starting point, I tried the No Meat Athlete Veggie Burger Formula which yielded tasty burgers that were full of nutrition. Unfortunately, each time I made them, the burgers had a very mushy texture, and would break easily during cooking, and mush apart when biting into them. I tried a few methods of making them sturdier: processing more, processing less, adding flax seed (it gels in moisture), baking rather than frying, and freezing before cooking. I had no success. Ethan suggested adding an egg to the mix, to help it hold together, but I wanted something I could share with vegan friends, and something that wouldn’t be a major contamination risk if not cooked all the way through.

I scoured the Internet for other meatless burger recipes that wouldn’t fall apart so easily. I found a few and decided to combine them into something that sounded simple and delicious. The recipe I came up with probably still needs some tweaking, but the first draft yielded delicious burgers that could be flipped, held together when bitten into, and brown really well.

The Recipe

  • 1/3 C hull-less barley
  • 1 lb mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 C rolled oats
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp flax seed
  • 1 Tbsp A1 steak sauce
  • 2 tsp griller’s seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 C frozen spinach
  • 1/2 nuts

Cook the barley in 2 – 3 cups of water, with salt and pepper to taste, bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 90 minutes, or until the water has reduced and has formed a thick sauce (this can be prepared a few days in advance).

Add the olive oil to a large skillet and put over high heat. Once the pan is hot, add the mushrooms, and brown. Stir occasionally.

In a food processor, combine the rolled oats, flax, steak sauce, griller’s seasoning, salt and pepper. Process until grainy. Add spinach and nuts and pulse several times to chop the nuts and mix everything. Add the barley, using a rubber scraper to get all of the sauce. Pulse a few more times to integrate the barley. Finally, add about half of the mushrooms and pulse until the mushrooms are chopped.

Pour the mixture into a bowl and stir in the remaining mushrooms.

Divide the mixture into 8 (large burgers) or 10 (sliders) equal parts, and form into patties. Fry burgers you plan to eat today, and freeze any remaining patties. To heat frozen burgers, either thaw in the fridge for a day, or microwave for 3o – 60 seconds before frying.

Tips and Modifications

The nuts I have used are a mixture of pumpkin seeds, peanuts, and raw cashews. I think any nuts would work though. White button mushrooms or porcinis work well for this recipe. If you don’t want big pieces of mushroom, you could process all of them before portioning into patties. The A1 steak sauce and griller’s seasoning could be swapped out for any flavorful sauce and seasoning mix. If you used a salty sauce or seasoning, you should reduce or eliminate added salt.

September 5, 2013 Uncategorized

Becoming (More) Vegan

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been listening to a lot of videos from NutritionFacts.org. There are innumerable individual bits of information, but they can be summed up in two main categories: eating whole plant foods is good for your health, and eating any animal-based foods is bad for your health.

When I combine that information with my uneasy feelings about the ethics of eating dairy produced by America’s dairy industry, I find the idea of becoming vegan more and more compelling. I don’t want to go cold turkey, for a number of reasons, but I also don’t want to be caught in a trap of saying I’ll do something someday, and not taking any steps toward that goal. Continue reading →

September 2, 2013 Health, Personal