I Ain't Scared of No Ghost

on Monday, November 21, 2011

Around Halloween ghost stories come out of the woodwork and get told and retold, news organizations send reporters out to the area’s “most haunted” places and do fluffy, one-sided “news” reports about the ghosts that people have “seen” or “experienced.” I saw one recently that took place at one of my favorite venues in St. Cloud, the Pioneer Place Theatre/Veranda Lounge. Now I hear tell that there is going to be a “documentary” made about the so-called “ghosts” that “haunt” the place.

The theatre’s artistic producer and all around great guy, Dan Barth, was interviewed and he stated that the theatre had hired four different psychics to come in and each of them said that, yes, indeed the place was haunted. One of them said there were four ghosts, I don’t know if any of the others came up with a specific number, but four has become the accepted number.

Now, I will say nothing bad about Dan, he is one of my favorite people in the world, but I will say something about supposed psychics. Of course the four people hired by the theatre are going to come in and say they “feel” something, that’s how they get paid, so right away I am dubious about their motivation and their findings. No psychic in the history of their profession has ever been shown to actually have psychic abilities (Don't believe me? Look here), their methods are unproven and using a unproven method to measure an unproven phenomenon is of little scientific value.

Everything else about the supposed haunting of the Pioneer Place is based on stories (anecdotal evidence), feelings and other equally unmeasurable, ambiguous and non-confirmable phenomenon. Flickering lights, cold spots and things that go bump in the night can be caused by a thousand different things, especially in a building that’s 100 years old.

A few years back I worked downtown, two doors down from the Pioneer Place, and I once saw movement out of the corner of my eye at 3:30 AM and another time heard strange thumping noises coming from the floor above. Some would cry “ghost” if they had the same experiences. Not me, I’d require proof and there is none.

The question I like to ask people who have had “ghostly” experiences is, “how do you know it was a ghost?” People who believe in ghosts will take a spooky, unknown thing and turn it into a ghost in their mind, “what else could it have been?” they ask. Well, it could have been some other equally fictitious creature like a leprechaun, a fairy, a unicorn or Santa Claus. It could have been Harry Potter wearing his Invisibility Cloak or someone doing a Jedi Mind Trick. Bring that up and you’ll usually get, “but I know it was a ghost!” Sorry, that’s not evidence, it’s an appeal to ignorance and it’s one of the oldest logical fallacies in the book (I don’t know what it was, so it must have been a ghost). Where does a True Believer draw the line between what they believe is real (a ghost) and what is patently ridiculous (Harry Potter)?

Ultimately I have a problem with the “documentary” that is going to be made because it will take a narrow, one-sided view of the Pioneer Place “haunting” and will not look at the other side, the skeptical side. Stories, anecdotes and the findings of so-called psychics will be held up as the only evidence and no one will bother to look into more plausible explanations of the experiences that are based on science. An unbalanced view is not a documentary.

I fully understand that “sex sells,” and a scientific response is like a cold shower to a nice sexy ghost story, but I think that accepting the “evidence” as it is delivered and believing that something unconfirmed is responsible is doing a disservice to critical thinking, and it ultimately makes us more ignorant and more open to the type of chicanery that is practiced by psychics, those who “speak to the dead” and people who “channel” 45,000 year old warriors from Atlantis.

Awesome Chili

on Sunday, November 13, 2011

No two of my chili recipes are the same, they are variations on a theme, but this one I just had to share. You will have to take it as given that the peppers are all fire roasted, skinned, peeled and diced.


1 poblano pepper
1 cherry bomb pepper
1 serrano pepper
1 jalapeño pepper
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 can chili beans
1 can red kidney beans
1 can diced tomatoes
1 cup whole kernel corn

1/2 cup cashew nuts

1 lb. 80/20 ground beef
1 slice bacon, diced

1/2 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tbsp ground cumin
1/2 tbsp cilantro
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp cinnamon

2 bay leaves

1/2 can (6 oz.) Coca Cola

Heat a large, deep pan and add the bacon, fry it until the fat just starts to melt.
Add the peppers, onion and garlic, sauté until the onions start to turn translucent.
Add the ground beef and bay leaves, brown the beef.
Add the dry ingredients (chili powder, etc.) and stir.
Add the cashew nuts and stir.
Add the canned ingredients (beans, etc.). Don't bother draining them, you're going to want all that moisture.
Add the Coca Cola. Make a mixed drink with the rest.

That's it. Heat it and eat it. The cashews add a little crunch, the cinnamon adds a little wonder and the Coke adds a little sweetness.

It's one of the best chili recipes I've ever done.

Mystical Woo

on Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I ran into an old friend recently, back "in the day" I wanted badly to be her boyfriend but that never worked out. I hadn't seen her in years and she's still as pretty as she was then. She's also still a big proponent of what I call "mystical woo" and that just doesn't sit right with a skeptic like me.

Let's start with the so-called "Law of Attraction," wherein a person thinks of something and that thing happens, or a person thinks of someone and then sees that person for the first time in years. Obviously, that subject came up, especially the second part.

The first thing you need to know about the "Law of Attraction" is that is was made up around the turn of the century by William Walker Atkinson, an attorney, merchant and publisher -- you will notice a profound lack of the word "scientist" in his list of occupations. Like many people, he looked for some divine or mystical principal that drives something as simple as coincidence and "found" it (easy to do when you know what you want your outcome to be and you cherry pick your results).

The second thing you should know about the "Law of Attraction" is that it has never been independently verified or confirmed in any way.

To be considered a "Law" an observed phenomenon must be consistently repeatable and invariable. Let's take Newton's Third Law as an example: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Row a boat into the middle of a lake, stand on the edge and dive into the water... you'll do a belly flop because the force you apply as you jump pushes the boat in the opposite direction. And it will happen every time you try it.

If the "Law of Attraction" were a true Law a person would just have to think of something to make it happen. Hungry? Think of food. Thirsty? Think of water. Poor? Think of money. Lonely? Think of company. Ridiculous! If something is going to be a law, the expected outcome has to happen every time, if it doesn't it's no law.

Now, an adherent to mystical woo would probably suggest that only thoughts of "True Merit" would manifest themselves, but to me that implies that there is someone or something that is weighing the relative morality of each thought. If so, that entity is an evil son of a bitch. You can't tell me that a starving person doesn't think of food, and to deny a starving person food is an immoral act.

Or they might say that the person doing the thinking didn't "do it right" which directly flies in the face of the "Law of Attraction" being an actual physical law. That also sounds an awful lot like "you pray wrong," one of the main reasons wars have been fought.

Next on her list was the Mayan calendar. Dozens of Mayan scholars have figured, and they all agree, that the end of the Mayan calendar will fall on December, 21, 2012, but there are a few who think it's actually October 28, 2011, and those are the ones she listens to. I'm positive that her interpretation was extremely flawed because she was talking about levels and triangles, yet every Mayan calendar I've ever seen is disc-shaped.

Somehow, one of these people has figured that the Mayans knew the exact age of the universe and that it is 16.5 billion years old. However, current estimates based on actual observable science estimate the age at between 13 and 14 billion years. That's a rather significant difference.  Thankfully, she doesn't believe that the world will end, but that the human race will enter a "new level of consciousness" -- another unmeasurable phenomenon.

There was some other stuff in which she told me about a "scientist" who is finding that the Power of Thought can affect the outcome of experiments. I looked him up, his methods are scientifically flawed -- he is out to prove something instead of experimenting and recording his findings, his findings cannot be replicated or verified by other scientists, and he has published no peer reviewed papers in any scientific journals. But that doesn't stop her in believing that what he is reporting is valid because he is supposedly on the "cutting edge" of science. No actual scientists think so.

When she got on the subject of "water memory" (a big part of homeopathic "medicine") I had to stop her because that's one thing I've done some reading about. Water doesn't have memory and they guy who claimed it did had all of his findings falsified by actual scientists.

So why the burr under my blanket? It was the pitied pat on the arm she gave me while being accusing me of denial of something Bigger Than Us. I wouldn't take that from a religious person who believed in God and the Bible and I won't take it from a friend who believes in mystical woo.

I am a skeptic. I refuse to accept things that cannot be measured, predicted or verified by actual observable phenomenon. Things like the Law of Attraction and water memory have been discredited by science, yet people still believe in them. I cannot, I will not do so. I come to this decision with as much passion as the most fervent and devout worshipper of the divine or mystical.

Show me a new estimate about the age of the universe based on science and I will accept it, "figuring" that the Mayans "knew" the "actual" age of universe won't suffice. And if the science comes in that puts the age at 16.5 billion years it will mean that new, observable information has come to light, it won't mean that the people who figured the Mayan thing were right -- it will mean that they guessed right.

(Let's take a jar filled with marbles. I can state that there are 120 marbles in the jar. If we take them out, count them and find 120 it doesn't mean I knew how many marbles were in the jar, it means I guessed correctly.)

I love science fiction and the Jedi Mind Trick, telepathic communication or the Vulcan Mind Meld are fun things to imagine, but I don't believe in any of them any more than I'd believe in a "Law of Attraction" -- they are all equal ideas, having been dreamed up by someone. And just because something sounds believable doesn't make it real.

Okay, Calm Down

on Friday, August 12, 2011

Back in 2009 I wrote about a guy in Florida who is a member of the same online forum as I. He was young, arrogant and had a chip on his shoulder the size of Gibraltar. Later he mellowed out, became a thoughtful if not a bit snarky person and became one of my favorite posters. That all changed again recently when the subject of "lane-splitting" on a motorcycle came up.

Lane splitting is when a motorcyclist weaves in and out of traffic congestion by driving between lanes and between vehicles. Any space they see is fair game. I see the practice for what it is: stupid and dangerous. Any motorcyclist who engages in this practice is asking to get side-swiped, hurt or killed. Any motorcyclist who engages in this practice and is side-swiped, hurt or killed is getting exactly what they asked for.

Dude in Florida believes that he is entitled to lane-split merely because he is driving a motorcycle. "Why should I be stuck just because you're all stuck in your cages?" he asks.

Because you're driving a motor vehicle, you stupid fuck. You don't get special treatment because you happen to be on a motorcycle. There aren't a separate set of rules for you and you aren't entitled to anything.

I hate people who think they are entitled to something just because of who they are or what they own. That's selfish and childish and I can think of no worse kind of person except maybe a serial killer. There is no difference between a lane-splitting motorcyclist and a jerk in a BMW who thinks he can go 90 mph because he has money. Fuck them both and their sense of entitlement.

Reckless behavior endangers everyone, not just the guy on the bike. The driver who kills the lane-splitting motorcyclist has to live with that death for the rest of their life, even if it was the idiot on the bike's fault.

There is no good reason for lane-splitting and I have no sympathy for the person who does it and gets hurt or killed.

Latest Roaster Saga

on Saturday, July 30, 2011

I had a gig down in Rochester on Monday of last week so I didn't make it in to work. On Tuesday morning I fired up the roaster, waited an appropriate amount of time and went to check on the pre-heating process only to find that the temperature was holding at 350 degrees. I need between 415-450 to roast beans so I had to figure out what was wrong.

Looking at the burners I saw that several of them weren't firing at all, so I cleaned them all off with a wire brush and tried again. No dice.

I started thinking that maybe the thermometer was wrong, since it was cracked (has been for some time) and a little bent. It hadn't been wrong in the past, but I wanted to make sure so I ordered a new one. It came on Wednesday, I installed it, preheated the roaster and got 350 degrees again. I tired contacting Probat, but no one called me back.

Thursday I called them again and they suggested that maybe there were some gas valves that were acting up, which happens sometimes to a roaster with as many hours on it as mine. So I order the two they suggested, one was $18, the other was $130. I didn't want to pay a ridiculous amount for over night shipping, but I asked them to send it the next fastest way.

Friday I knew I wouldn't see them. Monday I expected them, but they never showed. A call to Probat for a tracking number was met by a voice mailbox and no returned call.

Tuesday I sat around until 11:30 and called them again, got the voice mailbox again. I called again an hour later and was told that everyone was out to lunch, but that the guy who I had been leaving messages for would call me back when he got back. At 2:10 my parts showed up. At 2:35 the guy called and told me that the package had been delivered and signed for. Fucking jerk.

Wednesday the plumber came and installed the one of the new valves (the expensive one), he looked at the other and said it was fine. When we fired the roaster up again we had the same problem and that's when we determined that the gas jets were clogged.

It took a little doing, but we were able to remove the entire burner assembly. I took it apart and brought it to Ickler Co., a local machine shop that does incredible work, and they said they could clean them up no problem.

So another Thursday came and I got the parts back. They were beautiful! I had no idea they were made of anodized zinc and were gold in color, they'd always been black to me. I put the burner back together and with the help of the plumber (AAA rocks!) re-installed it. When we fired up the roaster it came back to life like it was ready to work hard. The flame was good, clean and strong and -- most importantly -- adjustable.

I was able to catch up with all my roasting and I'm back running at 100%, in fact the roaster is behaving better than it has in years!

It figures that the $50 fix would be the one to do it after I'd already spend hundreds on other things.

Pork Chop Qapla!

on Sunday, April 24, 2011

The cast of characters:

  • A big ol' bone-in pork chop
  • Jerk Rub
  • Apple-Raisin-Pepper Salsa
  • Parsnip puree
  • Bourbon-brown sugar reduction
The salsa is a mixture of finely diced jalapenos, Serranos, poblano, orange bell pepper, red onion, garlic, Fuji apple, raisins, salt, pepper, sugar, cilantro, cumin, white vinegar and lemon juice.

The parsnip puree contains a couple of medium parsnips, a small potato, butter, white pepper and chicken stock.

The bourbon-brown sugar reduction contains pork drippings, brown sugar, salt and pepper, white vinegar and flour.

I rubbed the chop with my homemade jerk rub a couple of hours before dinner to let it really set up in the meat. The jerk rub is as follows (this makes a LOT more than you need, but then you have some around for other meals):
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar; light is best
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp allspice
  • 2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
First I preheated the oven to 350 degrees F.

The pepper part of the salsa was put together a while ago when I made a mess of burritos that I freeze for a quick dinner, I just added a half a diced apple and a handful of raisins to it. I cut a small slit in the side of the pork chop and moved my knife around until I created a large pocket with a small opening. I then stuffed the chop with the salsa until no more would fit.

Then I peeled and cut into small pieces the potato and parsnips for the puree and put them in a small pan with salted water.

I took a large cast iron pan, added a little olive oil and let it get good and hot. I then seared one side of the pork chop for about 2-3 minutes until it got a nice, brown crust. I flipped it over, put my handy-dandy meat thermometer into the thickest part and stuck the whole pan into the oven. Then I started the puree a-boiling.

When the meat thermometer read 150 degrees F, I removed the pan and put the pork chop on a plate to rest. About this time the potato and parsnips were nice and soft so I strained them and tossed them into the blender with a tablespoon of butter, some white pepper and a couple of tablespoons of chicken stock, set the whole thing on "puree" and turned back to the pan with all the delicious pork drippings in it.

Over medium high heat I whisked in about a 1/2 tablespoon of flour into the drippings until it was nicely mixed and then added about two ounces of bourbon, a 1/2 tablespoon of brown sugar, a tablespoon of white vinegar, some salt and pepper and a little bit of lemon juice. I kept whisking it until it reached a gravy-like consistency.

The parsnip puree went down first, then the pork chop on top and I drizzled the bourbon mixture over the whole thing.

Served with green beans on the side it was possibly the best composed dish I've ever made. It was sweet, savory and hot at the same time and super tasty! Too bad I was cooking for myself. I can't wait to make it for Kate.

First Homemade Pie Crust

on Monday, April 4, 2011

I found a blog called Cooking for Assholes that has some pretty good recipes in it, but can be way too snarky. If you're not into being insulted as you try new recipes you probably should avoid clicking the link. Seriously, the guy has this "if you can't do this you're too fucking stupid" attitude that gets old pretty quick. Too bad, because the guy knows food and his recipes are, for the most part, pretty awesome.

Anyway, reading one of his posts the other day got me thinking about making another quiche, so I looked at his crust recipe, which I am going to reproduce here without all the profanity and only about half the snarkiness.

1-1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
(If making a sweet crust add 1 tbsp sugar)
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold butter, cut into small cubes
3 tbsp COLD water

Use your food processor -- don't have one? Get one. If you don't have one you're on your own for the rest of the recipe. All I know for sure is that if you're not using a food processor you should use your finger tips to mix everything so that you don't melt the butter.

Use your food processor, put in the flour and salt and pulse it a couple of times to mix it all together. Add the cubed butter and pulse a whole bunch of times until the dough looks something like oatmeal. Add the three tablespoons of COLD water and pulse until the whole thing forms into a cohesive mass.

Flour your work area, form the dough into a ball and then roll it out with a rolling pin until you get your desired thickness.

That's all there is to it.

Use the rolling pin as a tool to pick up the crust and place it in your pre-greased pie pan. Fill with your favorite ingredients and bake at 375 F for 40 minutes or so.

My quiche had bacon, asparagus, roasted Serrano peppers and a multi-cheese blend.

My mistakes: I didn't see "salt" in his recipe (it was there, I just didn't see it) and I used unsalted butter so my crust came out tender, golden, flaky and bland. I also didn't let the quiche cook long enough, funny because the knife test came out clean. I let it sit for almost a half hour and when I cut into it I got runny eggs in the middle. Fortunately, eggs are pretty forgiving and I was able to put it back in the oven for about ten minutes and they solidified up real nice.

The crust recipe is so easy, and, by the way, it is about a million times cheaper than buying pre-made crusts, that next time I'm going to try making my own pot pie.

Oh, and don't give me that "real men don't eat quiche" crap. That book was a parody.

Pasta From Scratch

on Friday, February 18, 2011

My first attempt at pasta from scratch was a huge failure (except for getting engaged, that part rocked). I figure we did several things wrong, using bleached all purpose flour instead of unbleached or semolina flour, using eggs that were too cold and too small, and not having the correct moisture content. We made two attempts that night and they both wound up in the garbage.

Last night I tried again, this time with semolina flour and jumbo eggs -- which I left sit out on the counter for a good hour before cracking. It took two eggs because the first one just disappeared into the flour without a trace.

I kneaded the dough for a good long time and let it rest for 10 minutes or so. I came back to something that still wasn't right, but I wasn't willing to throw it out because semolina flour is so expensive. I wetted my hands and went back to kneading, wetted them once more and kneaded... finally the dough starting taking on the right consistency.

I cut a small amount of the dough ball and started to run it through the pasta machine. My god what a huge fucking pain in the ass! That damn thing needs to be bolted down to keep it from sliding all over the counter. I finally managed to make to headway by bracing the top of the machine with my left forearm while feeding the dough in with that hand, my right hand operated the crank which constantly came out of its little guide hole.

Oh my did I swear a lot!

But damn it! I was getting something that resembled pasta!

The second third went better, but it was still an exercise in frustration, especially with the machine sliding all over the place. The third batch went about as well as I could expect! The moisture content was perfect (well, damn good anyway) and I wound up with a strip of pasta that was long and wide.

Lesson learned so far: let the dough rest longer. Those flour molecules need time to absorb all the moisture they can before you start manipulating them.

My filling rocked, but still needed a little spice. I took a chicken breast, braised it in vegetable stock, ground it, added an Italian five cheese blend and some chopped cashews, and added a little of the veggie stock I'd used to give it some moisture. I built a piping bag out of a zip-lock with one of the corners cut out and went to work making ravioli.

The second lesson I learned is that ravioli should be small, I made some things that were gargantuan and boiled them in a pot that was too small. Still, they came out really nice.

So next time I'll know what to do: mix the pasta dough, WAIT until the moisture is fully absorbed before manipulating it, spice the filling a little more, make my ravioli smaller and boil them in a larger pot. If I follow my own advice I'll come up with something really tasty!


on Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Kate and I have been dating for four years now. I have never known anyone like her and I love her deeply. I proposed before, but she has never accepted before now and I wanted to record how it happened.

We have been volunteers for a 50-hour trivia marathon on the local college radio station, KVSC-FM, for years (the contest itself has taken place annually for over 30 years), I record song parodies with the Shake a Hamster Band, she works the phone bank where the competing teams call in their answers.

Across the hall from the phone bank is the food station (we are very well fed throughout the whole contest) and this year they had a big bowl of Necco® Sweethearts, which I love (I know a lot of people who don't). Sometime during the weekend, it had to have been Friday or Saturday, I grabbed a handful and wandered across the hall to the phone bank to say "hi" to Kate and give her a kiss on the top of her head. As I walked I would read a heart and eat it, read and eat, read and eat... I found one that said "Marry Me" and I put it in front of her, kissed her and went back down to the recording studio.

I was certain that she would ignore it, seeing as it was a silly way to ask.

Monday after Trivia Weekend is a day of recovery. During the weekend sleep patterns get thrown in the trash and bedtimes of 4 AM or later are not uncommon. This year it also happened to be Valentine's Day. After laying around on the couch for most of the day we decided to start making dinner, but first she presented me with a card.

"Shit!" I thought to myself, "I didn't get her a card."

Inside the envelope, inside the card was another candy heart that said "Yes Dear." I asked her, half jokingly, if that was a response and she said, "Yes."



I leaped to my feet -- I felt weightless. We hugged, we kissed... I cried. I am the happiest I have ever been! I am so in love with that girl and I am looking forward to making her my wife and of building a life together.

That's the story, it's silly, it's romantic and I wouldn't change a single moment of it.

Cooking Error

on Friday, February 4, 2011

I got all the ingredients I needed to make spaghetti last night -- almost. I got meat, onion, garlic, mushrooms, a red pepper and a can of diced tomatoes. Notice that I didn't get any sauce, which I realized when I was getting ready to start cooking. I didn't feel like running to the store just to get a can of sauce, so I decided to reduce the recipe size and use the can of diced tomatoes as the sauce.

So I got out the blender, poured the can of diced tomatoes into it and hit "liquefy." Everything was going just fine until I noticed that some of the liquid was leaking out of the bottom of the pitcher.

"Oh, you're bleeding," I said, and started to remove the pitcher from the blender's base. The bottom came off completely covering the blender and the counter with tomato sauce.

I cleaned up the mess and ordered a pizza.