The Crux of the Matter

“The unborn” are a convenient group of people to advocate for. They never make demands of you; they are morally uncomplicated, unlike the incarcerated, addicted, or the chronically poor; they don’t resent your condescension or complain that you are not politically correct; unlike widows, they don’t ask you to question patriarchy; unlike orphans, they don’t need money, education, or childcare; unlike aliens, they don’t bring all that racial, cultural, and religious baggage that you dislike; they allow you to feel good about yourself without any work at creating or maintaining relationships; and when they are born, you can forget about them, because they cease to be unborn. You can love the unborn and advocate for them without substantially challenging your own wealth, power, or privilege, without re-imagining social structures, apologizing, or making reparations to anyone. They are, in short, the perfect people to love if you want to claim you love Jesus, but actually dislike people who breathe. Prisoners? Immigrants? The sick? The poor? Widows? Orphans? All the groups that are specifically mentioned in the Bible? They all get thrown under the bus for the unborn.

– Methodist Pastor David Barnhart

Meatball Marsala

To make a complete menu: start with my meatball recipe, make some mashed potatoes, then top with this Marsala.

Meatball Marsala

A classic meatball marsala, just add meatballs
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine European
Servings 8 people

Equipment

  • 1 cast iron pan, 15"
  • 1 measuring cup

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 3 tbsp butter salted
  • 16 oz sliced mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup Marsala wine
  • 1 pinch black pepper optional

Instructions
 

  • Melt the butter over medium heat
  • Toss in the mushrooms, flip around to coat with butter
  • Cook the mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until they soften and start to brown, about 10 minutes
  • Sprinkle in the flour and stir to coat the mushrooms
  • Stir in the Marsala wine, and bring back to a boil
  • Stir in the chicken broth, and bring back to a boil.
  • Turn down the heat and simmer until the sauce starts to thicken, 5-10 minutes.
  • Add the cooked meatballs, stir to coat the meatballs, remove from heat, and serve
Keyword butter, chicken broth, mushrooms, wine

 

Adapted from food.com.

Stew Beef and Egg Noodles

This is a family favorite.  It’s delicious, but it’s not healthy.  Each serving takes about six months off your life expectancy.

We frequently pair it with glazed carrots, but it also goes well with buttered peas or a green salad.

Stew Beef and Egg Noodles

Pan-fried stew beef served over buttered egg noodles
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 5 people

Equipment

  • 1 pan, large I generally use a 15" cast iron pan
  • 1 stock pot
  • 1 bowl medium-sized for dredging beef
  • 1 wooden spoon

Ingredients
  

  • 1 lb stew beef
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tbsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp butter divided
  • 4-8 tbsp olive oil
  • 12 oz egg noodles 12 oz = 1 standard bag

Instructions
 

  • Prepare the stew beef by cutting it into bite-sized pieces (about 1 inch cubes)
  • Put on a pot of water to boil
  • Mix flour, pepper, and garlic power together in a bowl
  • Dredge the cut-up stew beef through the flour mixture until all pieces are well coated
  • Heat pan at medium heat with a tbsp of butter and a tbsp olive oil
  • Once butter is melted and oil starts to shimmer, you're ready to start cooking the beef.

Cook the beef in batches

  • add beef one piece at a time
  • Let each side brown for about a minute, flip to brown next side, repeat until all sides are brown, and then push to the side of the pan.
    You can generally add about 10-20 pieces at a time before it's time to flip the first piece. Flip everything until all sides are brown, then push to the side and start the next batch.
  • Add more oil as needed to keep the "landing area" for new beef coated in a thin layer of oil.
    The flour will tend to soak up the oil. You don't want the pan to get dry, or the new pieces won't brown properly.
  • Once all pieces are browned, spread evenly across the pan and allow to cook for 10 more minutes or until pieces are cooked through.

Make the Egg Noodles

  • Cook according to package directions, drain, then return to the pot and add a tbsp of butter. Mix to coat noodles with butter.

Serve

  • Spoon noodles onto plates and top with beef.
    Scrape the bottom of the pan to get the cooked-on bits unstuck, and divide among your servings. (they carry a lot of flavor.)

Notes

This recipe scales very well.  Increase ingredients proportionally.  I've made it with just over two pounds of meat; much more and I would have needed a larger pan, or a second pan.
Keyword beef, egg noodles, stew beef

Every time I make this recipe I can’t help but wonder when egg noodle companies cut their bag weight from an even pound of noodles to 12 oz.

Road Trip 2024: Eclipse Edition

Back in 2017 I made a road trip with Alpha to view an eclipse as it passed over Illinois.  (We got tangled in traffic before we reached the path of totality, but it was a good trip overall.)

When we got home I started planning our next eclipse trip, so that pesky traffic wouldn’t prevent me from seeing totality.  Enter the six-year plan leading up to the latest eclipse in 2024, with the path of totality passing over Niagara Falls.

eclipse path map from NASA
NASA’s map of the eclipse’s path

We arrived a couple of days before the eclipse, and left the day after.  Traffic would not be a problem this time.  We had hotel rooms, cameras, snacks, and chairs.

The one thing you can’t control is the weather.  It was cloudy.

Most of the path of totality was cloudy, as a matter of fact.  A relatively short swath from Vermont to the Atlantic was mostly clear, but the rest of the path had varying levels of poor weather, including some nasty storms.

We eked by with a mostly cloudy experience, which had a pleasant side-effect: filtering wasn’t required for most of the time.

Approaching totality of the eclipse
The one artificially filtered picture I took. The rest were filtered by the cloud deck.
landscape during totality
During peak totality the sun and moon were completely obscured by clouds, so I took a few photos of the landscape
solar eclipse totality viewed through clouds
The clouds thinned out just enough during totality for me to catch a glimpse of what appears to be the corona, just before the moon slid out of the way. It could also just be glow from terrestrial clouds.
border of darkness and sunlight
As totality came to an end, we could momentarily see the border between darkness and light over the Canadian side of Niagara
sun peeking from behind the moon after totality
The clouds add some drama to the scene as the sun slides out from behind the moon again
more sun peeking from behind the moon after totality
A few minutes post-totality, the moon’s shadow leaves a Cheshire-cat-like visage

I’m not really that kind of driver, am I?

[Me, driving normally]

[Me, pulling ahead of someone and tucking myself neatly into their lane]

[Meghan, with genuine respect]: Nicely done!

[Beta child, from back seat]: When I have to get somewhere quickly, I drive like dad does normally.

[Me]:
D&D What GIF by Hyper RPG

A Cinderella Story

Young Cinderella was getting ready for her best friend’s wedding.  Snow White was getting married to her prince, and asked Cinderella to be her maid of honor.

As Cinderella was readying herself for the big event, her Fairy Godmother appeared.  She read all of the tabloids and knew everything about the best man, Prince Charming.

“Cinderella, darling, I have something for you.  It’s a magic IUD to help with any, uh, delicate conditions.

“But you have to promise me that you’ll be back by midnight, for it will turn into a pumpkin.”

So off Cinderella goes to her best friend’s wedding, safe with the gifts and blessings from her fairy godmother.

But then midnight comes and goes without sign of Cinderella.

Just after dawn a very disheveled, but very happy, Cinderella comes wandering up the lane.

“What happened to you?!” demanded her fairy godmother.  “You were supposed to be back hours ago!  What happened to your IUD?”

“It’s fine, it’s taken care of.”

“Prince Charming doesn’t have that kind of power!”

“Oh, it wasn’t him,” Cinderella said, with stars in her eyes. “It was Peter, Peter, something or other.”

Montreal, QC

Baba, aka my mother-in-law, invited beta child on a lightning trip to Montreal as a Christmas present.  Three days, two nights.  I was invited to attend as well.*

Baba had two requirements.  One was seeing the Notre-Dame Basilica.  The other was eating in a French restaurant.  Beta’s sole requirement: shopping.  (I had no additional requirements besides going on a road trip.  I love road trips for themselves, so anything else is gravy.)

So off we go for a 300-mile drive.

looking down the highway in Vermont
Beta child’s view from the backseat as we cruised through Vermont

There’s an interesting bit of geography: the border between Vermont and Canada coincides with a geographical border between mountains and plains.  Shortly after crossing the border we were struck by the immediate change from hills and trees to flat plains and farms.  A few hills, including Montreal, stick up from the ground in anomalous fashion.

Montreal in January is not a popular tourist choice.  It’s cold.  Being from New England, we’re used to cold, but Montreal is still pretty cold.

Montreal is like NYC and Boston had a baby city.  Medium-sized office buildings.  One-way streets in a grid pattern with lots of potholes.  Mostly clean, but homeless people scattered around.  Not many people on the streets in the middle of night, but still 24-hour businesses.  Mostly new, but a mid-16th-century section.

We found a French restaurant for dinner on our first night: Modavie.  Baba ordered an appetizer called “Normandy Sweetbreads”, but she didn’t know that sweetbreads are actually organ meat.  Not knowing what it was, she thought it was delicious.  She had second thoughts the next day, however, when she found out they were probably made with a calf’s pancreas.  We also had charcuterie (Beta) and salad (me).  Entrees were seafood pasta (Beta), salmon filet (me), and Filet Mignon (Baba).  The food was excellent.

The next morning was crisp and cold.  Our first stop: the bus stop.  I had procured some 24-hour bus passes (unlimited rides for 24 hours) so we could get around town and have a cheap bus tour of the city.  It seemed wiser, as well as more environmentally responsible, than pulling the car in and out of the small parking garage by the hotel for each trip.  Waiting for the bus was a cold experience, however.  Beta child under-dressed for the occasion despite my warnings, and was visibly cold.

st denis bus stop with ferris wheel in background
Standing at the bus stop by our hotel. We didn’t visit the Ferris wheel on this trip – too cold.

The Basilica was worth the cold.

interior view of notre-dame basilica, montreal
The Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal. The pulpit is to the left. Stained glass windows and paintings adorn the outer walls.

After a quick lunch at a bakery near the Basilica, and a pit-stop back at the hotel for Beta to change into warmer clothes, we paid a visit to The Underground City.  Baba took a breather in a food court near our entry point, while Beta and I took off to see the malls.

After the mall we killed the remaining hour of daylight by riding the bus home from one end of the line to the other.  We went through neighborhoods we never would have seen otherwise.  The driver’s confusion when we didn’t immediately disembark at the end of the line was palpable.  “Where are you going?”

We ended the day with takeout dinner from a restaurant next to the hotel called “The Pastaman”, and talking about life for a couple of hours.

Coming home was uneventful, except the border crossing.  The guard asked us some off-the-wall questions, like “where have you been? – not just today.”  “Why did you go to Jordan?”  I think they try to ask unexpected questions to throw people off balance a little and shake loose anyone who may be concealing something.  I’ve only been out of the country a couple of times, but it happened each time.

* After some indecision on how to get there, because the train required 24 hours each way (due to an overnight stop in NYC) and neither wanting to drive a car for that long, I suggested that I could drive them.  They readily accepted my offer.  I very much appreciated the chance to join the trip, and I had a great time!

Coconut Macaroons

We make this recipe every Christmas for my dad.  He freezes them and eats them over the next few months.  We don’t tell his cardiologist.

Coconut Macaroons

Betty Crocker's coconut macaroons
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Cooling 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 45 minutes
Course Dessert
Servings 4 dozen

Equipment

  • 1 large mixing bowl
  • 1 medium mixing bowl
  • 1-5 cookie sheets the more cookie sheets you have, the faster you can swap macaroons into the over
  • 1 ice cream scoop optional, should be around 1 tablespoon in size
  • aluminum foil
  • cooling racks
  • 1 small sauce pan

Ingredients
  

  • 21 oz flaked coconut (3 packages, around 7 2/3 cups)
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 14 oz sweetened condensed milk (1 can)
  • 2/3 cup cream of coconut NOT coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1 egg large
  • 6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips (1 bag)
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Line cookie sheet(s) with aluminum foil, and sprinkle 1 cup of the coconut flakes over the pan.
    Bake for 2-7 minutes, take out as soon as it's golden.
    Cool the toasted coconut.
    Reserve the foil for later.
  • Mix toasted coconut, flour, and salt in large bowl.
  • Beat milk, cream of coconut, vanilla, almond extract, and egg in a medium bowl, then pour it over the dry ingredients and stir.
  • Drop batter onto foil-lined cookie sheets by heaping tablespoons.
  • Bake 12-14 minutes, or until golden. Move macaroons, still on their foil sheet, to a cooling rack.
    Repeat until all dough is cooked.
  • Allow all macaroons to cool for at least 30 minutes.
  • Melt chocolate chips and oil in a small sauce pan over low heat. Stir constantly until melted.
  • Drizzle chocolate over cookies. Allow to cool until it sets, about 30 minutes.
Keyword coconut, cookies

Walk-About on a Foggy Christmas Night

Playscape and trees at the shore of Silver Lake, backlit by a street lamp, on a foggy night
I thought the street lamp was a nuisance, casting too much glow on everything else, until I realized that it was backlighting the playscape and trees in a peculiar, almost spooky way
Playscape and trees at the shore of Silver Lake, backlit by a street lamp, on a foggy night
After playing with the light levels of the raw photo, I got a much more dramatic image.

White River Junction

Megh and I recently celebrated our anniversary (22 years!), and we took the train to White River Junction, Vermont, for an overnight to celebrate.

Megh and Quinn
On the train to Vermont

The weather started clear and warm, and we ate dinner outside.

The town holds an annual parade for Halloween called “Gory Daze.”  It started at 9 pm and featured a few hundred young adults in costumes and small marching band.  We didn’t know about it until we saw the participants gathering in front of the local museum.  It’s a hoot!

The next morning was cold, cloudy, and (eventually) rainy.  We walked around a bit to check out the town.

Connecticut river
The Connecticut River from White River Junction

We started by heading across the river to a breakfast place in New Hampshire, then came back to do a little shopping.  About the only thing open on a Sunday morning was the local co-op grocery store.  We picked up some maple donuts and oatmeal cookies for the train ride home, and some local syrup for Meghan to give to her coworkers.