Sunday, December 29, 2013

Killer Funeral Potatoes: So good you'll need another funeral

Did I ever show you how to chop an onion? No?!? Well, cut the ends almost all the way through. Then, cut it in half long wise almost through. When you pull the apart the two halves, it will peal itself. Cut the half into segments (again not quite all the way through see 2.3) and then finish the job! Once you get going you can really let it rip!

Preparedness is one of the most important principles of cooking. It allows you to focus on the actual cooking, rather than thinking about stuff you could have done before hand. Cooking can then be a really peaceful experience, allowing you to think about how your life could have been different... if only you had gotten that promotion, or chosen a different major, or had only asked that girl out. Gosh.

Here, in step 3, you are melting cream cheese into the bacon fat (reduce the heat). There is some interesting chemistry going on here: the saturated bacon fats react with the dairy fat to produce insoluble fiber! Actually, this is really healthy! Trust me, I'm a scientist! Taste the sauce after step 4... if this doesn't bring you to your knees, then you need to leave this blog right now because you are a cyborg.

You are just going to have to accept that this takes a long time to cook (see comments on preparedness). I bake mine for an hour, before I put the bran and honey-nut corn flakes on top... then I bake it for another 30 minutes. Don't forget to put some salt and pepper on there before you pop it into the oven.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Loosely, there are two types of responses to this story that fit two types of personality: the play-it-safers and the risk-takers. The play-it-safers will find it very funny and absurd. The risk-takers will find it funny, absurd, and resonating. I suppose I consider myself a bit more of a risk taker, and I often draw real or imagined deeper meaning from what I read, so not surprisingly I found some shallow reflections of myself in the main character along with an underlying message of what I believe the author thinks makes a life worth living.
The story begins with Alan Karlsson escaping out of a nursing home window on his 100th birthday. He steals a suitcase that, unknown to him, contains 50 million Swedish Crowns, and from there he creeps along narrowly evading authorities and thugs while making friends along the way. Running parallel to the escape story is the story of his life, spanning 100 years of history. His life path amounts to him, through optimism and good luck and general niceness, meeting the most famous and notorious people in the 20th century. He is behind the scenes of the Manhattan project, later leaking the secret of the bomb to the Russians, and basically contributing to the rise and fall of various governments. Later in life he becomes a spy, who through trickery and connections with old friends helps end the cold war.
As a child Alan was taught “things are what they are, and whatever will be will be,” and this theme runs throughout the book. Clearly, depending on one’s perspective the maxim “Che serĂ , serĂ .” can lead to happiness or devastation. On the one hand, it encourages the acceptance of realities that one is powerless to change – and this acceptance has been taught by the most enlightened people through history. Yet, it can also encourage the belief that one is powerless to control what will be – and this point of view seems to be held by the biggest wankers of society. Alan clearly takes the former point of view, avoiding a fight against humanity that cannot be won and he his happier because of it.
Another recipe for happiness in the book is that being kind to people, biting your tongue, generally not saying anything unless you have something nice to say, and treating others the way you would want to be treated; these are behaviors that usually pay off in the long run. Alan is nice to people, not expecting anything in return, and these kindnesses pay off sometimes only years later. I too put a high value on kindness, and similarly have experienced returned kindness sometimes years later and for things I did not even remember.
Perhaps the two biggest themes in the book are optimism and opportunity. It could be argued that Alan had an almost unimaginably bad life: he was orphaned, involuntarily sterilized, unjustly imprisoned on multiple occasions, cheated, and sent to a Russian work camp. Yet, he was happy. Because he was happy, he looked for and saw opportunities that led him to have an extraordinarily full life. Seeing and taking life altering opportunities is climbing out the window and Alan did it for 100 years. And so, this charming book fleshes out one of life’s most important lessons using an insane story as the vehicle: you can sit miserable in your old folk’s home chair as the victim of your environment or you can do something a little scary and carrying a little risk and take control of your environment!

Alan Karlsson reminds me to accept the things I cannot change, to have the courage to change the things I can, to treat others as I would be treated, to appreciate a bit of enjoyable food and drink, to have a happy and full life… laughing along the way and climbing out the window when necessary.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Faith and the Life Altering Decision Paradox

Certain choices carry incredible weight: choice of career, who to marry, when to have kids, moving, divorcing, changing religious beliefs. As these choices are approached, I have noticed a beautiful paradox. With these types of choices I often feel conflicted; as the choice approaches and demands attention my anxiety rises to fever pitch. Why? Because there is the sensation that this could be the very best decision simultaneously with the feeling that it could destroy my life. It is truly a paradox, these choices do simultaneously carry the power to either make us or ruin us and somehow we don't know which it will be.

And, such things cannot remain undecided. The easiest thing would be to try and not make the decision at all. Yet somehow the sick feeling associated with indecision on something important is worse than the worse case scenario of both outcomes.

So in a world where nothing is really certain (you never really feel ready for any of these major things) you take a leap of faith and make a choice. In the end, whether we are happy with our decision down the road depends so much on our commitment and attitude. How hard am I willing to work to make a choice right? If that is what matters - commitment, attitude, and work - then actually the weight of the decision we face diminishes and other decisions emerge. Will I choose to stand by my choices? Will I choose to put in the work and suffering required? In a sense... will I have faith in myself? Maybe that is the most important decision we can make.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Book Review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake:
don't judge a book by its cover
I love to read. Usually I read non-fiction, right now I am working through a biography of Hitler, a summary of Buddhism, and a short history of Europe. I think all three are very good. But, sometimes, I pick up a fiction book and it sings to me, resonating with my emotions. To Kill a Mocking Bird was like this, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was like this, and I liked The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake just as much.

The only hurdle is the cover. When I read the back, a young girl can taste the emotions of people in the food they prepare, I thought I was looking at a teeny-bopper book. I guess I didn't really know what to expect, other than for it to be stupid.

Here is what the book really is: an insightful exploration into the reality of suffering in life, and how people deal with this reality. It is a book about coping with life, how everybody copes in different ways, and even though the way somebody else copes seems ridiculous and frustrating... if you understand them, you can love them. Aimee Bender somehow packages this in an almost absurd vehicle, following the formative years of a girl who can taste people's emotions in their food.

It's like The Onion, in a way. On the surface, ridiculous, but underneath truth. I love the writing style. You get the feel that the author just decided to write however the hell she wanted. No quotes on dialog. Incomplete sentences. Fragmented sentences that she should have considered revising in Word. I'll bet her entire Word document was underlined in green.

About half way through the book, I think I got what she was trying to do. The author was writing with the same flow as her thoughts. You don't put quotes around your friend's words when you are playing them back in your mind, you just think the words and know who they came from. Another thing I think the author did was take the classic advice of Strunk and White - that every word tell. I would venture to say that there are very few unnecessary words in there indeed, which is also probably why so many of the sentences seem short yet complete.

The book is honest about suffering and human nature, which means that you might also find this book to be depressing. But, I still recommend it because with this honesty comes understanding.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Eucalyptus Plant: I've Finally Reached Rock Bottom

Area Eucalyptus plant has been bemoaning its pot, leaves, artificially enhanced soil, and virtually every other aspect of its viridiplantae existence.

"I can't believe how naive I was before in my stupid little tin can. I thought I had everything figured out, that I was at the end of the road, that it was time to sit back, relax, and live life."

Things began getting hard for the plant when it was evacuated from the pot of it's youth to be transferred into a black plastic temporary dwelling before its current location. Eucalyptus was so certain of its narrowly defined future, so secure in its view of the universe, that the changes amounted to a severe blow to its psychological stability.

Eucalyptus is not alone. Several other windowsill plants have faced forced pot evacuations due to changing life circumstances.

"I knew Eucalyptus before, in the can, and it used to drive me nuts with its endless perky jabber about the decoration of its can and everything. I didn't say anything though, because I figured that life would straighten things out and that it would be painful enough when it did" said potted Basil.

According to Braided Money Tree, Eucalyptus has nothing to complain about. "What a whiner. Was there ever a lady who liked a whiner? No. So Eucalyptus has amazing growth, gets transferred from an ugly tin can to respectable temporary housing and then to a beautiful new double-lined pot... the biggest pot on the windowsill. It sits right in the middle, the focus of the room, meticulously cared for and watered. The most infuriating thing is old Eucalyptus doesn't even know how lucky the [wanker] is. Have you seen my pot? I'm so root-bound it takes me so long to take a leak my leaves change. Consistent watering? Forget it. It wasn't easy coming from IKEA either, those greedy box-store friendly European turds."