Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mexican-style Granola - recipe from Rick Bayless

Part of my Sunday TV-watching experience includes a fun show called "Mexico - One Plate at a Time." The chef on the show, Rick Bayless, is this crazy hippie who finds all kinds of amazing gourmet Mexican recipes. He owns a couple famous restaurants in Chicago, so it makes one wonder "how can a Chicagoan know anything aboug good Mexican cuisine?" Well, I've been impressed so far.

The latest recipe was, of all things, granola! It was so simple, I had to share. The recipe calls for puffed amaranth, but I'm sure any old puffed rice cereal would do the trick. I didn't have either of those, but I did have some unsweetened shredded coconut, which was a key ingredient that I had used in another granola recipe. That recipe took five hours in a 250 degree oven. This recipe took half an hour in a 300 degree oven. With the temperature dropping, I'm all for using the oven these days.

So, I suggest visiting the website and following the recipe to the letter (although the peanuts were a bit odd in the mix, next time I'm leaving them out and increasing the rest of the nuts & seeds to compensate)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Slow-cooked pulled pork sandwiches

A while ago, my girlfriend found this recipe for pulled pork sandwiches that just really captured my attention. I've made this recipe several times now, but last night became the topper. I've made a few modifications to the original, but now that I've got a winning version, I'm sticking to it.

The key alterations involved:
  • Replace half the coriander with cumin
  • Replace the paprika with chili powder
  • Use all apple juice, or half apple juice & half cider vinegar for the sauce
  • Crock pot with a steaming basket does a great job with this dish
So, for your eating delight, here's my winner recipe for slow-cooked pulled pork (edits highlighted):


  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 2 tbsp kosher or coarse salt
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard (found in spice section)
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 boneless pork butt, about 3 pounds (also called pork shoulder)
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 package plain soft white rolls or other bread

Tip: You can buy bone-in or boneless pork butts. Both have their benefits: Cooking bone-in will contribute some flavor (and increase the cooking time slightly). But if you have your butcher take out the bone, you can rub the spice mix into the incisions where the bone was removed — a great way to get the flavor deep inside the meat.


Mix brown sugar and dry spices together in a small bowl. Rub all over pork, cover, and let sit in the refrigerator for as long as you have time for (as little as 1 hour or up to overnight - time in fridge not necessary when using crock pot). Pour the juice and vinegar into your crock pot. Set a vegetable steaming basket inside the crock pot and set the roast on top. Cover and cook on low for at least 8 hours or overnight, or on high for 5 hours (crock pots may have different temperatures - your mileage may vary), until pork is brown outside and meat is very tender, basically falling apart.

Remove steamer basket from crock pot, letting the meat fall into the juice. While still warm, shred pork into small pieces using 2 forks or 10 fingers. Transfer to bowl for serving, or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. To reheat, just transfer to shallow baking dish, bring to room temperature, and place in preheated 350 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Best served on toasted kaiser rolls with a little mustard and mayonnaise. Spicy wasabi or chipotle mayo works great too.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Peach jam

The mess began small, just some tools sprawled out across a table. But it was much more than a mess than we were after. My GF and I worked on making jars of peach jam for everyone as Christmas gifts. The experiments with blackberries and blueberreis turned out so well, it was only natural to make the peach jam next, since they're in season and all over the stores right now. I love a good peach, and I love being able to package it up for a later date.

The process seemed simple enough. Boil the jars to sterilize them, and keep them boiling while prepping everything. Peel the peaches, measure the sugar and lemon juice, crush the peaches with the potato masher, mix it all together, and keep it boiling over high heat until it begins to set. Then, we ladle it into the hot jars, put the lid on, set the jars back in the boiling water to process, and pray that we don't give all our friends and family botulism.

The first stage of the procedure is peeling the peaches. We had some conflict of opinion on proper methods, and I turned out wrong. So, in case you're wondering, here's what to do: Start a large pot of covered boiling water. When the water is at a rolling boil, drop in all your peaches that you intend to peel. Keep it in there for about a minute. Riper peaches will peel easier than unripe ones. Lift a peach out and feel the skin to see if it slides on the flesh at all. If it does, it's probably ready to go. Drop it into an ice water bath, roll it around for a few seconds, then use your thumbs to slide the peel off.

Crushing fruit is surprisingly theraputic. It's also one of the few times I really get to use my gigantic potato masher. I really don't know what I was thinking when I bought that gigantic thing, considering the fact that I probably spent more on it than all of my spatulas combined. But, it got its mileage when we turned this pile of unsuspecting fruit into pulp.

The fruit is then mixed with sugar, lemon juice, and the pectin. Some fruits are high enough in pectin where all they need is to be reduced. This was certainly the case with the blackberries and blueberries. Peaches are just not so. We made two batches, one with full sugar, and one using a "no sugar added" pectin that ended up tasting too tart to enjoy. I added some sugar to it anyway, which helped the flavor. We'll give them out as 'low-sugar' instead of sugar-free.

The hot peach jam goes into the hot jars, which are then sealed and submerged in boiling water for ten minutes. This is to make sure we got out all the nasty nasties to keep the food safe for human consumption. And I must say, this stuff is tasty, so we ultimately want some human consumption involved.

I'm glad I got the canner, but I should've read the label. This canner is designed for quart-size jars, and we had pint-size jars. They were falling over sideways in the pot and required a little babysitting. One of the lids came off as I was lifting it out. We could not trust it to be shelf stable anymore. (Darn, I have to keep one!)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fun with Telemarketers #1

So, before getting into this, I think it's safe to state that there is no real good time for a telemarketer to call. However, there are worse times than others, such as 8:15pm while my son is reading me his bedtime story. However, I've come to see telemarketer calls a free license opportunity to screw around with people.

Tonight, however, I couldn't be bothered with it at all. I got the call and was ready to give them hell when I answered the call... only there wasn't a human on the line, I was greeted with hold music.

So, I thought I'd return the favor. I ran across the room to my clock radio, quickly found the first station with semi-clear music, set the phone down by the speaker, and returned to finish my story.

I was anticipating a chance to pick up the phone, hear a voice, and put them "on hold" again. Let's see when the next call comes in. I have an older and more interestering technique which I'll share next time...

Quick update: Repeated the procedure again on the following night. Can't these guys take a hint? All they need to do is wait for me to finish and I'll talk to them.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pardon the gap in transmission, I've been working very hard on papers for school. My weekly essays are all one-pagers about current news articles, so it hit me today - why not post them in my blog?

This is my first paper from four weeks ago. The teacher docked one point out of ten for being too opinionated in the response. Haven't made that mistake yet. I'll publish each of my other papers later, perhaps this weekend.


Title: Oracle gets clearance by Justice Dept. for Sun acquisitionDate: Aug 20, 2009, 5:01 p.m. EST



The US Federal Governement has approved the purchase of Sun Microsystem by database software company Oracle. Although many different sites reported the event, I opted to write about the article in Market Watch because they restated a very important fact I had since forgotten - "Sun acquired MySQL AB, the developer of MySQL, for $1 billion in early 2008."


The purchase brings good news to Sun, whose stock price dropped drastically in 2007. The software company that maintains the Java programming language will likely find some new stability as a result. I am concerned about the impact on the MySQL community, as well as implications on competition between the two database technologies. Will Oracle eventually kill off development on MySQL? What does this mean for the billions of companies (like my own) that rely on MySQL to do business?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"Help! I've fallen and I can't get up!"

Okay, my situation isn't so drastic that I need C. Everett Koop to send paratrooping ambulances to my house, but it still sucks.

My leg has been steadily becoming more and more painful every day. It felt at first like a cramp or pulled muscle in my hip, but now it's feeling more serious. I even had a hard time laying down on the couch last night. And when laying on a couch becomes painful, then there's a problem.

Urgh... I hate dealing with this stuff...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Stupid allergies and Stupid Microsoft installers

I have two major gripes this week. Allergies and Microsoft installer programs.

For the first time in months, I'm having serious allergy symptoms while on Flonase. The nasal spray has worked brilliantly since I started using it back in May. Now, all of a sudden, my eyes are itchy and watery, my nose has begun to drip, and I'm sneezing all the time. Frankly, I'm pissed off about it. I'm not sure which I'm more upset over... the fact that I'm having allergy symptoms or the fact that the drugs aren't working anymore. Insert lots of expletives here.

Next, I can't seem to get a friggin' Windows install to work right on my laptop. It's because it's old, 64 bit processor, and because I'm making the leap to Windows 7. There are no working drivers for the onboard video card that work with Windows 7 64 bit processor. I was barely able to get the 32 bit driver installed. My laptop is falling apart anyway. One of the hinges is broken, so the screen is hanging on by the other hinge. Some of the support screws in the middle are missing, so when I move the laptop around it freezes. Oy! All I need is another $500 and I can get a newer laptop...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Installing Windows 7 on my Gateway MX6421 Notebook

Before you ask, the answer is "No, I will not give you a copy of the CD or a product key. It's for school, and I'm actually going to be honest about it for once in my life."

A benefit to enrolling in CSU Fullerton's Online MSIT program is that we have a group license to our own MSDN library. I can download almost any Microsoft product out there for free! (Well, it's part of my tuition, I guess, so it's not totally free)

It took a while to do, since downloading a DVD-sized ISO is a project unto itself. The initial download from MSDN is for an installer application that downloads the ISO in an encrypted format, which then decrypts it. This wouldn't be a big deal except my laptop had virtually no diskspace left and my desktop is running Fedora (decidedly not windows, in case you didn't know). I learned that the installer works perfectly under wine (windows emulator) and so now I'm downloading like nobody's business.

So the simple part was over. I backed up all the sensitive bits from my hard drive (which wasn't really that much) and installed Windows 7 on my laptop. Now, since I attempted to install SuSE 10.3 Alpha when it was first released (duh, Alpha) I swore I would never subject myself to early-release operating systems. I wanted to make sure an OS was stable before marrying myself into it.... well, at least stable enough to get by. Installing W7 was a big breach of that promise. Beta copies were released about a year ago, and full release was only opened to the market within the last couple months. (Yes, I'm estimating because I'm too lazy to go find exact release dates. Sue me.) Now I've committed to using a new, early-release OS.

It's so new that nothing supports it! I went through murderous hell this evening trying to get the damn display driver to install. At least I don't have the lame-ass Catalyst Control Center. I don't need another app to control something that the OS does natively unless it does a much better job of what it's replacing. Catalyst is there to replace the Desktop Settings, but you can't access it through the Desktop Settings panel. You have to open a separate program.

After about two hours of beating on the damn computer and scrubbing through the web for answers, I found that I could download the damn Radeon driver from the Gateway website. All they had for drivers are for Vista or XP. Funny though that in the end, the Vista drivers were crap and the XP driver worked properly right away.

As I get to know W7, I'll keep posting my comments, complaints, compliments regarding my experiences. Next step is to install Office and Visual Studio.

Wish me luck!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Blackberry Battery FAIL - Business card WIN

Sometime last week, I became immensely frustrated with my Blackberry Storm crashing on me again. I was simply trying to dial, when the screen went blank and returned with the little clock icon. This happens on a regular basis. The frequency is not very predictable. I sat down with my good friend Google and did some research.

I found a great article on crackberry where they allude to the 'paper trick' to keep your battery in place and, as a result, keep the storm phone from crashing. Although I knew the idea behind the paper trick, I never thought it was an issue on my Blackberry. It had to be the fault of the operating system. Dammit, I knew I should never have downloaded advanced pre-release software! I was going to have to wipe it clean and reinstall again. (Pardon the liberal use of bolded words for emphasis, btw) I felt certain it couldn't be the battery, because the phone had been known to crash when I wasn't moving it around... or was I really that certain?

After the third crash in the same hour, I get pissed and am prepared to call up Verizon for a full refund. I'd say "F*** this b***s**t, I'm switching to T-Mobile so I can get an Android-based phone!! Give me my contract cancellation and blah blah blah!" All ready to do it when I got home so I could use a land line to do it. Then, the words paper trick wafted into my consciousness.

First, to test whether or not it might be a loose battery, I gave my phone a good thwack against the dashboard of my car. Sure enough, it crashed. I popped open the battery cover, ripped off the end of a business card, and stuffed it in over the top of the battery. I repeated the thwack test again and watched my phone stay alive. I thumped the phone again a few times to be certain before something in my brain caught up to my hand and said Hand, hey, this is Brain here. Thumping a piece of sensitive electronic equipment like that is a bad idea. You really should stop.

It's been now over a week since that fateful thumping of the phone and not a single crash ever since. I'm finally happy with my blackberry again!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

First day on the treadill

I won't pollute my blog with my regular stats on the treadmill, that's what twitter is for. I'll update you with some major landmarks, like when I drop another pants size, lose ten pounds, or something similar...

The experience of getting the treadmill was, well, an experience. First, I found an ad on craigslist: a working treadmill for $20! I couldn't pass that up. After some emails back and forth, she said someone offered $45, so she upped the price to the highest bidder who would arrive on Saturday at 11am.

While parking the car, I rubbed bumpers with a rental car and had to give up my insurance information. It's a gamble either way, but I had to be honest about my actions. Either the rental company would overlook the scratch, or they'd report immediately to my insurance company and my rates would go up *again!*

Okay, so I finally get parked and show up at the place. It's an apartment building, the gate is locked, there is no security code, and I don't have a phone number for the person selling the treadmill - only an email address. Lucky me, I have my handy dandy blackberry and was able to send an email. (While waiting for a response is when I dealt with the rental car ordeal)

I *finally* get a call from a blocked number. Normally, I don't answer blocked numbers, but I was certain it was the treadmill.... and that's where the bad fortune ended, because it actually was her, and not a bill collector or telemarketer.

I get up to the apartment (which I never would've found with no information on the emails) and see the treadmill. It's perfect! Small enough to fit in my Explorer, big enough to handle my lanky stature. When I got home, I was actually able to lift it out all by myself and carry it through the front door.

This morning, as cartoons were blaring on the TV, I sat down and began to let my brain turn to mush. Then I saw the monolithic exercise machine looming by the front door. I wheeled it out, kicked it on, and voila! She works!

Next step is to get a desktop workstation going on there so I can get work done while burning calories. Since I'm about to start online classes, this will be invaluable to my staying in shape.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Water balloons are cheap

My girlfriend bought a neat gift for my son - a bag of 120 water balloons. He was excited as all hell to engage in some water warfare. Finally, about a month after the fact, his best friend came over to play for the day.

We spent easily half an hour filling up the tiny latex sacks of doom, watching most of them explode in our hands just from simple handling - filling them up with the special tip that was provided, attempting to tie them closed, simply setting them down in the grass... I think I popped ten for each of the first four that successfully filled up.

This can't be too terrible, since they ought to break on impact. So, I grabbed one and tested it out. I threw it at my son's feet, fully expecting it to explode on impact, soaking him thoroughly. Unlike it's fragile brothers, this one bounced on the pavement, rolled across the driveway, and landed in the planter on the side of the house, taunting me with it's stoic resistance.


Anyway, after so many explosions, I got a brilliant idea. I pulled out my big cooler and began filling it with water in between balloons. Every balloon that made it into the cooler survived until the inevitable. I found I could throw the balloon as hard as I could and as long as I hit the water, it survived!

By now, I had also gotten the hang of filling up the balloons, realizing that they need a bit of stretching prior to filling. This moment of limbering up allowed the balloon to expand at a proper, even rate.

At least thirty minutes of filling balloons, and our guest arrived, The two boys went through every balloon in less than ten minutes. I think they spent more time picking up the bits of balloon than they did throwing them at each other.

Oh, summertime... such fun...

Friday, August 14, 2009

The price of good spelling

For some strange reason, this reminds me of my mom. Not because mom could contort her face so strangely, or because she had a replica of a computer from some 1950's sci-fi show, but because she was a terrible speller. Granted, she never lost a moment of sleep due to the fact that she couldn't spell... oh whatever.

Funny that this product probably sold for an insane amount of money in its day (1981 to be precise, according to the copyright). Nowadays, FOSS web browsers automagically spell-check anything that I type, even blog posts.

Now as I see all this spell-checking software in everything I do on the computer, that makes me think: does the fact that computers assist in correcting my spelling teach me how to spell better, or does it provide a crutch so I don't have to think about it? It's hard for me, personally, to consider this since I've always been very good at spelling (the wall full of spelling bee trophies at home tells me so). I wonder if studies have been done on this. Time to consult the Oracle of Google for more information.

This blog post from the 'Language Log', University of Pennsylvania, gives some interesting points, explaining that language is in need of better standards, drawing on conclusions from how people wrote during Elizabethan times. I guess they didn't have Webster back then to provide a baseline (and no, I'm not talking about the TV show - Webster has been publishing dictionaries longer than most of you have been alive). Pervasively enforcing spelling based on a global standard adds validity to spell checking, in this author's humble opinion, but this still doesn't answer my original question. If any of my readers have any insight, please let me know.

Hats off to SpellStar for paving the way! (And thanks to for posting such awesomeness)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Slow-cooker oatmeal (Thank you, Alton Brown)

Okay, among many other things, I'm really into good cooking. You'll see a lot of those posts in here. My two favorite cooking shows end up to live at both ends of the talent spectrum: Good Eats, which presents Alton Brown running down the basics of food mechanics, and Iron Chef America, where the best and brightest of the culinary world end up doing shamefully amazing things to insane amounts of food. I have a friend who works on that show and keeps telling me that I can go out there to see it anytime I want. If only New York were not so far away...

Anyhow, today's post is about an Alton Brown recipe that intrigued me (as many of his recipes do). Last weekend's camp trip where I grilled skirt steak directly on hot coals (rather than on a grill over coals) came out amazingly well, so I decided to spin another AB joint - Steel cut oats in the crock pot.

I followed the recipe as instructed, with the exception of the dried figs. I have some dried apricots that I considered throwing in there, but I didn't want to risk mucking things up on the first try. Next time, those bad boys are going in for a soak. Most of the comments on the site complained that the oatmeal burned up on the bottom. I found some burned stuff, but not enough to be concerned about. I scraped all the burned bits off the side with a butter knife and mixed them in. They smoothed into the soft warm porridge and left a distinct nutty flavor that I really liked. I strongly encourage anyone with a crock pot to give this one a go. If you do try this, top it with some brown sugar while it's hot. You won't be disappointed!

Update 8/17: Tried again, adding dried apricots and cranberries, and using 3 cups 2% milk with 2 cups water instead of 4 cups water and 1 cup heavy cream. This combination didn't work. The porridge was not very creamy, and the sweet from the dried frut was waaay overpowering. This batch burned a lot more too, probably due to the sugars in the fruit.

And so it begins...

I'm starting this blog just like anyone else. I'm writing a chronicle of my life as I know it. Things are about to change big for me as I proceed.

Unless I slip and make a mistake, I won't be posting my real name, or any other real names on here, in order to protect those around me - if you're a friend of mine, you already know who you are anyway.

I'm about to begin studies for my master's degree. I enjoy my nerdy job. I have a great little family and a lot of good friends, of whom you won't hear too much. Like I said, you already know who you are anyway. This isn't about airing dirty laundry, it's about sharing the funny things I see in the world around me.

Just keep the good news coming.