I Quit…Five Years Ago

Quitting is hard, isn’t it? I suppose I’ve had my fair share of quitting, though I think I may have been fired from more jobs that I quit. I’m a free spirit, I guess. I’m sure that’s also why I seem to pick up bad habits. One habit that was especially insidious was smoking.

Most people that smoke start early on in middle or high school. I believe I was fourteen when I tried my first cigarette. I could have all I wanted because I had a friend swipe them from his mom. There were also tobacco vending machines all over town. I’m guessing all of these machines were phased out in the States when I was eight or ten, but in Germany, it was another story. I lived there three years, and I was beginning to think that smoking was an Olympic sport. Nevertheless, I may have smoked all of twenty cigarettes from fourteen to eighteen.

I never got serious about smoking until I was eighteen. I thought smoking was ridiculous, but it just made me look so darn cool.

CC image courtesy of Jo Naylor on Flickr.

I mention this because five years ago today I quit smoking. I took Chantix for months before I even thought about seriously quitting. The Chantix helped, but the best aid for me was Gobstoppers. I would toss about fifteen in my mouth because it’s hard to smoke with a mouthful of candy. And you might choke.

The withdrawal was the worst. I was on edge. I felt like I was gonna die. Or kill. Either was fine with me. That was only the beginning. For months I had a cough that made my smoker’s hack seem like I was just clearing my throat. Did I mention the nightmares? I still have the occasional nightmare. You know the kind. The kind of dream where you start smoking…then you realize that you have to start over again. I worked long and hard to be smoke free. I don’t want to have to start the quit clock over.

I always kept a half empty pack of Marlboro Lights in my glovebox just in case I needed them. About a year after I quit I got in a fender bender. Without thinking, I reached into the glovebox, popped a heater into my mouth, and started fumbling for a lighter. Just before I lit up I realized I didn’t smoke. I put the cigarette up and got out of the pickup to assess the damage.

Five years without a cigarette is a pretty big feat. I can remember the impossibility of quitting. I can remember the dread when I ran out of cigarettes. I can remember the constant hacking. I can remember standing in the rain to get my fix. I can remember the time I smoked four packs of Reds in one day. I can remember the freedom I felt after being smoke free for six months. I can remember envisioning this landmark day. Then I almost forgot that today marks five years of not smelling like an ashtray.

Scotch Egg Sandwich on Pretzel Roll With Horseradish Mustard

I woke up this morning in a funk.  I’ve been fighting my autoimmune aches and pains and really thought I was going to camp out on the couch and watch House reruns on Netflix.  I would have if I wasn’t tasked with taking my fourteen year old daughter to the bank to open a savings account.

Boiled eggs encased in bratwurst.
Boiled eggs encased in bratwurst.

By the time we got to the bank I began thinking about sandwiches.  My kids think I should be famous for my pepperoni grilled cheese sandwiches and they always welcome new sandwich additions to my repertoire.  One night we had chimichangas for supper.  Chimichangas stuffed with banana, peanut butter, marshmallow spread, and Hershey bars.  Though not technically a sandwich, they were perfectly happy to eat a crusty and gooey conglomeration of delights.

Dredged in egg wash and coated with panko bread crumbs.
Dredged in egg wash and coated with panko bread crumbs.

I have been wanting to try Scotch eggs for some time now.  I decided they would make a great sandwich.  I was right.  I found some pretzel rolls and determined that I needed to use bratwurst for the eggs.  Add a nice mustard sauce and we have a German/Scotch egg.  A Scotch egg by any other name tastes just as sweet, right?  I knew that 400 level Shakespeare I course I took in 2 1/2 weeks one summer was going to be useful someday.

I decided to borrow a horseradish-mustard sauce from Martha Stewart.  I added a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to increase the drizzle factor.  It took maybe five minutes to make the sauce.  The rest was pretty straightforward as well.

Fried scotch eggs.
Fried scotch eggs.


4 eggs, boiled to your desired consistency

2 eggs, beaten (to hold the breading)

5 links bratwurst, casings removed

1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs

2 quarts vegetable oil (for frying)

4 pretzel rolls (or whatever bread suits your fancy)



Heat oil in cast iron dutch oven to 375 degrees F.  While oil is heating, peel eggs.

Take approximately 1 1/4 bratwurst links without casings and flatten.  Place egg in the center and carefully work sausage around egg to completely encase it.  (At this point, I stuck the eggs in the freezer for about fifteen minutes to firm them up.  It’s not necessary, but if you choose to do this, wait until you remove them to start heating the oil).

Coat meat covered eggs with egg wash and roll in breadcrumbs to coat completely.scotch3When oil is hot, carefully place eggs in oil.  I cooked two at a time so that they had plenty of breathing room.  Fry approximately ten minutes and periodically roll egg balls to make sure it cooks evenly.  (I didn’t have enough oil to completely submerge my eggs).

When cooked, carefully remove from oil and place on paper towel lined plate to drain.  Let cool for about ten minutes and slice with a serrated knife.  Place on roll and drizzle with delicious mustard sauce.  Enjoy.

Tangy Orange and Lime Salad Dressing

I have to admit that I don’t eat many fresh fruits and vegetables.  I like fruit and some vegetables, but sometimes it’s easier to grab a candy bar or a tin of sardines.  I’m lazy.  Preparing salad diverts my efforts from other worthwhile endeavors.  Like eating potato chips.

I was surfing recipes while I was at the bank drive thru when I found the perfect salad dressing recipe.  As soon as I completed my transaction I had to go to Kroger for some oranges.  This recipe captured my imagination that I had to get home to make it immediately.  Or something like it.

I have great difficulty following recipes.  I almost never follow a recipe.  I see them as guidelines.  When I saw the recipe for Citrus Shallot Salad Dressing, I was imagining Tangy Orange and Lime Salad Dressing sweetened with watermelon molasses.


I am very pleased with the results.  The Tabasco lends the tiniest of bit of heat while you taste a faint hint of watermelon.  It is so faint it is almost an afterthought.  If you don’t want to burn up a whole day making watermelon molasses, you can always use a different sweetener.  I think brown sugar would be a nice addition.


Juice from 2 oranges
Juice from 2 limes
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons watermelon molasses (or you can use honey or another sweetener)
1 large shallot, minced finely
2 dashes Tabasco
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste


Combine ingredients in a mason jar and shake until combined.

Scintillating Chicken Salad Sliders on Arepas

When I was around twelve, I loved going to my best friend’s house.  Being ex-military and ex-CIA, his dad was strict, but kind.  He was the type of man who wouldn’t tolerate the sheninagans you see kids pull today.  We always showed respect to adults in his house.  It was always “yes sir” and “yes ma’am.”

His mom was great.  She was from Venezuela, and she was always making treats for us.  I still remember the creaminess of the hot chocolate she made with melted Venezuelan chocolate bars.  What I miss most are the arepas.

arepas 379

Arepas are similar to hot water cornbread, but you use cooked corn flour, or masa harina.  I’ve only made them twice in my life.  They paled in comparison to the perfectly cooked corn discs of my youth.  Nonetheless, they are tasty and I think with enough practice, I can make these as light and fluffy as I remember.

Here is an excellent arepa recipe. I added garlic powder to mine. I especially like this recipe because there are many descriptive pictures to help you make your own arepas. I also decided to get a little creative with the chicken salad. Cooking the chicken was no sweat. All that’s needed are two boneless-skinless chicken breasts, salt, and pepper. Add the chicken to a small pot and cover with water. Add salt and pepper to taste. If I had chicken broth I would have used it instead of water. Then you cook the chicken in the boiling water until it is just done. Remove chicken and allow to cool. Once cooked, shred chicken by hand.

The “salad” portion of this is essentially a remoulade sauce I came across. The original recipe came from serious eats. I added minced sundried tomatoes in olive oil. I almost forgot about the star of the sandwich…bacon. I used thick cut bacon and sliced the strips into thirds before frying. Assembly is the best part. Slice arepas in half. Apply chicken salad. Top with a piece of bacon and add the top part of the arepa. It’s pretty straightforward. And delicious.

arepas 378


Operation Love Your Neighbor

Heather and I were supposed to go on our annual mission trip to Honduras. The previous two years have captured our hearts and we have been privileged to be able to go and share the Gospel. It’s quite challenging to spend time with children that don’t even share your language. We thought we were getting on a plane to bless some third world children. Now I know that the blessing was ours.

We had trouble raising funds this year as my ankylosing spondylitis limited my ability to cook. I have no idea how many lasagnas I made the previous two years to fund our trips, but I’m glad to have a skill that translates into mission work. We just have a head start for next year.

Instead of leaving the country, we went to a neighborhood in our own town. With assistance from Common Ground Community and many friends we were able to launch Operation Love Your Neighbor. We have typically prepared and served a nice meal one Thursday a month for the past three years. We continued that tradition yesterday and served up a delicious meal of pork loin, roasted potatoes, green beans, and banana cake. We continued today with a nice spaghetti lunch and an afternoon of teaching 22 kids the love of Jesus. Tomorrow, we will conclude the week with a morning walk to visit some homeless friends.

This week has reminded me that service doesn’t require trekking around the world. We can serve right where we are planted.

Dinner Time at Common Ground

It was another culinary adventure at Common Ground Community. My middle child, Chef Zoe’, spent the entire day with me to provide this week’s meal.The rain kept a lot of people home, but we fed around 90 from the community plus all of the volunteers.

I dunno where the 70 pounds of pork loin went, but I’m sure there were a lot of full bellies.I’ll be serving up spaghetti for lunch tomorrow while my wife, Heather, coordinates a sort of mini VBS for the neighborhood children.

Strawberry-Jalapeno Salsa

It’s been a number of years since I inadvertently discovered the magic of strawberries and jalapenos.  I like eating jalapenos straight from the jar, and I love Mezzetta peppers because they are crisp.  My experience with jalapenos from a jar are oftentimes mushy.  You can enjoy many mushy foods, but jalapenos?  Never.

One summer afternoon I chopped up some strawberries and topped them with some vinegary peppers.  I was hooked.  There is some kind of synergy that takes place where the combination is much more than either of the parts by themselves.

If you really want to punch this up, you can add a nice vinaigrette.  I like enjoying my salsa with a shovel sized spoon, but I’m sure this would make a nice addition to a sandwich as well.  I’ll be testing this on sandwiches soon.

 salsa 016 


1 cup strawberries, diced

1/4 cup Mezzetta diced tamed jalapenos

For the vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar

2 turns fresh ground black pepper

1 basil leaf, finely chopped

1 shake Tabasco sauce


Combine the strawberries and peppers.

Add all ingredients for vinaigrette in a jar.  Seal and shake until combined.

Add to salsa and toss to coat.

salsa 017

Chef John’s Decadent Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

Volunteering with Mercy Chefs has given me the opportunity to work with many incredible chefs.  One of the things I really like about deploying for disaster relief is the fact that I always learn more chef skills.

It seems that I have trekked all over the Western Hemisphere with Chef John, and God willing, we will embark on many more adventures.  His life is one continuous adventure as he is a full time missionary chef.  

I’m privileged to be able to share one of his cookie recipes:  his Decadent Peanut Butter Cup Cookies.  These are sure to satisfy that sweet tooth.


Consider It Pure Joy…

It’s not all fun and games dealing with chronic pain. It can also be quite expensive. After years of pain, I was finally diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis a few months ago.

At first, I was prescribed Humira. I had one injection that showed promise. Two weeks later I sprayed the shot all over the room because I forgot how to operate the injection pen. Brilliant, right?

Due to insurance problems I was switched to Enbrel. My rheumatologist is a schemer that likes to stick it to the man. Enbrel and Humira have discount cards where you can pay as little as five bucks a month for your medication. The credit from the discount cards applies to your insurance deductible. I thought everything was going to be rainbows and unicorns until I learned that I still have to pay 40% for my medication until I have paid $5000 out of pocket. I know, it’s a terrible plan. Especially since we have private insurance and pay close to $700 a month for family coverage.

I’m switching back to Humira later this month because it seemed to work. Enbrel does nothing for me. After the discount card is applied, I’m going to start paying $426 a month for my medicine. It’s money we don’t have so we are going to eat more beans and rice. It will be money well spent if it relieves me of this pain, though.

I’m sure I’m not being very clear regarding this insurance debacle, but I really don’t have a clear understanding to begin with. Apparently, there is the deductible and there is a separate copay for medications. In a nutshell, it’s a lot of money with little return. Thank you Obama. This Affordable Care Act seems to make health care very expensive for families that work. In my case, my wife works 50-60 hours a week. I’m unable to work, so I’m essentially a housewife who does the cooking. The cleaning…not so much.

I’ve been shuffling like an old man the past few weeks. I try not to whine too much about my ailments, but I’m irritated when friends who have little to complain about start crying about not having a spouse. I could be wrong but I think women are a little turned off by desperation. Advertising your desperation on Facebook is a double turn off. At least he has the potential of finding a mate. I’m sure there is at least one woman in 1000 who are attracted to sensitive men who cry into their bosom every night. I can soak my wife’s bosom with my tears all I want, but I’m still going to be shackled with chronic pain.

I’m comforted by the fact that the Bible never says God promises happiness. With Him, you can be joyful which transcends all circumstances. James 1 teaches that trials of all kinds develop perseverance.

Besides, there’s something much more important than anything I endure. I was going to quote Romans 8:18, but I realized I already did that here.

Twisted Root Burger Co.

The first time I came to Twisted Root, the restaurant had only been open for about a month. The atmosphere was great with electric guitars on the ceiling and Chuck Norris jokes written on the men’s room walls, but the burger was only mediocre. Granted, I didn’t order a kangaroo or a beaver burger, but with all of the hype, I expected something extraordinary. I was met with an average burger. The presentation was great but someone forgot to add some flavor.

The restaurant has been open several months now, and I decided it was time for another visit. I may be a sucker for atmosphere, and I always enjoy the faux dive bar look. People think food garners credibly if it’s eaten in a dump. Sometimes they are right. Sometimes it’s just a good burger.

I ordered the manly sounding Cowboy Burger or Tex Burger. I don’t know what it was called. I just know it was as big as a ten gallon hat and had guacamole. Before I ordered though, I asked for a sample of the guacamole. I had no choice as the manager was clueless when I asked if that fiendish herb, cilantro, was in the recipe. I’m glad to say I wasn’t overcome with rage that only cilantro and Splenda induce. Come on, how can you say a sugar alternative is like sugar but floats on coffee? I actually had a friend tell me about how that abomination is actually healthy. If I’m going to eat something that is like sugar, I’m going to go with the genuine article. Sugar. Cilantro is even worse as it is found in nature and tastes like minty toe fungus. I don’t need that on my burger.

The Big Rancher burger, or whatever it was called, was as messy as it was delicious. I needed twenty napkins but but the combination of guacamole and chipotle sauce was a good call. The fried onions and bacon topping the burger weren’t bad, either.

Today was also the first time I’ve tried fried green beans. Healthy + cloggy is a great addition to any diet, and I’ll have to admit that fried green beans outperforms fried pickles. I need to conduct a double blind study to prove my assertion theory.

I’m glad I gave this establishment a second opportunity to shine because I’m usually gun shy to give a restaurant a second chance. Twisted Root Burger Co. Is well on its way to becoming a favorite burger joint of mine.