Mindless Drivel

Conversation is overrated. I learned this over the years by having conversations with my dad. I don’t know if he was born to have long discussions about nothing or if it is the result of his dad re-enacting Three Stooges scenes by clunking his head against his sisters’ heads.

My dad knew the art of having conversations beyond their expiration date by interjecting meaningless and irrelevant details. Is being subjected to inane conversation considered abuse?

Flash forward to the present: I still hate details and I dislike most conversation more than two words. I actually spend a lot of time thinking about saying something as concise as possible. When I ask a question, I require only the detail I ask for.

An example of of scintillating conversation would be something like this: “Was the movie good?” An acceptable reply is “yes.” A typical answer is more like this: “The movie was blah, blah, blah, blah…”

See what I did there? I just tuned out and directed my attention to the dog defecating in the yard. I’m thinking, “Why does the dog crinkle itself up to poop but stretches out to pee?”

My wife is irritated by my attention span. Not that she has inane conversation. She always wants to discuss important matters, but my brain has been trained to have drive-thru dialogue. “Would you like fries with that?” Of course I want fries with that. What a stupid question. I always want fries with that unless they are calf fries.

See how easily I’m distracted? I can remember the old 80’s commercial by the United Negro College Fund. “A mind is a terrible thing to waste…” Then I remember the commercial with Iron Eyes Cody crying when he sees someone litter.  Did you know he wasn’t Native American?

Just be glad I’m not an air traffic controller.

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Feeding the Masses

I am spending my day at Common Ground Community (CGC) today. CGC is a faith-based organization and It’s quiet as I’m the only one here. This evening will resemble a three ring circus with kids running loose and parents being ministered to by our volunteers. I’m in charge of tonight’s meal.

I guess I’ve been volunteering here close to three years. I typically volunteer to create supper one Thursday a month. I think volunteering here and with Mercy Chefs are what helped me become comfortable with catering. It’s only a fledgling business and I’m not looking to make millions, just enough to contribute to our household so we can finally melt that debt snowball.

Most people who come here don’t know who I am or what I do. I like it that way. I hope they came for Jesus, but I’m sure many just come to get some of their basic needs met.

Sometimes it’s difficult for me to volunteer here as my wife and children have told me that on several occasions, they have heard people whine and disparage my food.

They hear this while serving the members of this community. I ignored what they said for a couple of years and kept making things like spaghetti and meatballs, meatloaf, BBQ chicken, and homemade bread. Along with the main courses were various sides and desserts. I usually don’t go all out on the sides, but the main courses and desserts have always been from scratch.

A couple of months ago, we were short handed. After I was done in the kitchen I went to serve meals. We serve cafeteria style to feed everyone quickly. That night I heard many negative remarks and only one positive remark. I’m not here to boost my ego, but I hope all of my effort is well received. I’m wasting everyone’s time if nobody wants to eat it.

After this experience, I looked back on my experiences with Mercy Chefs I served in Kenner, LA after a hurricane, West, TX after a plant explosion. (I think that was a feed plant.) I even spent time in Colorado after last year’s flooding. We have served thousands of meals and I have never heard anything negative on any of these adventures. There was only gratitude. Again, this isn’t about some pity trip I’m on. I’m just making observations.

I believe that the victims of disasters are so grateful because they just lost everything. The people I encounter in this neighborhood are victims of the system.

This system encourages government dependence. This system holds very little value for dads or for families with both a mom and a dad. This system encourages thug life where eight year olds try to act like their favorite hardcore rapper wif diamonds in their teefs.

Granted, there are many who come here and are struggling to raise their children properly. To raise them to have respect for their elders. To raise them to have respect for themselves.

Society as a whole can get locked in a groupthink mentality where they think it is best to throw money at the problem. To give handouts. CGC, a Bible believing organization, now appears to be transitioning from a handout system to one that encourages the individual to help himself. I’m not a fan of clichés but in a sense, to give a ‘hand up.’

Since hearing feedback firsthand for the food I expended so much love to prepare, I’m in a sort of transition. Maybe I should cook something more fundamental. Last month I made Hoppin’ John, a dish consisting of blackeyed peas and rice. Today, I’m making pinto beans and rice. Don’t worry, I’m going to have cornbread, too.

I still expend the same energy shopping, chopping, and cooking. These beans are going to taste out of this world, but for now, I’m offering two basic meals that we enjoy every week at home: beans and rice and rice and beans.

I can feed them today, but I hope they find the Bread of Life where they will never hunger again.

Maple Cake with Mocha Frosting

A friend of mine lent me her stand mixer so I could see if I wanted (or needed) to buy one myself.  I have been baking a lot of cakes lately, and depending on where I have been baking them, I either mixed them with a hand mixer or by hand with an authoritative spoon.  It is work using a hand mixer, but when you are cooking full sized sheet cakes with nothing more than a spoon, it becomes work.  Fast.  The stand mixer runs laps around my puny arm.

This is much more effective than my puny arm.
This is much more effective than my puny arm.

Today, I decided to create a maple cake with mocha buttercream frosting.  I loosely based this cake on the same recipe I posted the other day.  As a matter of fact, this cake is nothing like it.  The required ingredients are as follows:

 

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup maple syrup

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup butter

2 eggs

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I’m using Honduran extract)

 

Frosting

1/2 cup butter

1/3 cup whipping cream

1/4 cup baking cocoa

3 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon coffee extract

 

Method

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix butter in a bowl with brown sugar until smooth.  Blend in maple syrup and oil.  Slowly add flour, salt, and baking soda.  Once well mixed, add two eggs and buttermilk.  Finish off with a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Greased 9 x 13 sheet pan and pour in batter.  Bake approximately 30-40 minutes.

While cake is baking, beat 1/2 stick butter with whipping cream, confectioners’ sugar, and whipping cream.  Once smooth, add vanilla and coffee extracts.

Maple cake with mocha frosting.
Maple cake with mocha frosting.

Pour frosting over cake while still warm.

Enjoy.

Note:  The edges of the cake seemed a little hard, so next time I will try with white sugar instead of brown sugar.

Nuts and Feet

I remember this radio promotion I was involved with many years ago at this Active Rocker. We had front row tickets to see Tool along with passes to the pre-show party.

This was during Fear Factor’s heyday and we wanted to cash in on that notoriety. A select number of listeners were going to be abused for their big opportunity by playing Nuts and Feet.

The premise was simple. Fill a kiddie pool with mayonnaise, pork and beans, relish, and a few more ingredients. Several boiled pig feet and one boiled pig testicle were buried in this slop. Score a foot and win a free CD. Land the baseball sized pig part and win the grand prize. Oh, and you had to retrieve these items with your mouth.

The smell emanating from that pool was horrendous. I almost vomited. The smell hit a woman and she threw up. We had this stunt in a store parking lot next to a busy street. This commotion even caused a car accident.

I don’t remember who won. I don’t even care. I was too busy laughing at this spectacle.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/prompt-moments-to-remember/

 

It’s All Relative?

All of the great philosophers have attempted to answer the really important questions. Are people innately good? How do we determine what is moral? Where do those socks go when they are lost in the drier? Perhaps the greatest question of all was posed by Pilate. He asked Jesus, “What is truth?”

The dictionary certainly doesn’t help. It says truth is the quality or state of being true. Sounds kinda circular to me.

If something is true, is it always true? Or is it only true to the individual? Maybe the question should be reframed. How about, “Is truth really namby-pamby”? CARM.org states, “In relativism, all points of view are equally valid and all truth is relative to the individual.” So, from the relativistic postmodern view, truth is namby-pamby.

On the surface, relativism sounds pretty good. We each can hold our own truths and everyone lives happily ever after, right? What happens when these relative truths conflict with each other?

If I say chocolate ice cream is the best and you say vanilla ice cream is the best, how do we determine what is right? (I believe I first heard this analogy from Todd Friel on Wretched). Rock, paper, scissors? We both can hold our individual view as our favorite ice cream flavors are preferences.

What if you say murder is bad and I say murder is good? Are we both right? Are these ‘truths’ preferences? Which opinion overrides the other?

Before you say that murder is harmful to the murderee, how do you know? What is right for you is not necessarily right for me. Maybe the murderee has terminal cancer. Maybe not. It’s irrelevant. I say murder is good. You have no right to force your worldview on me anymore than I have a right to force my worldview on you.

Maybe you think it’s a stupid question. That’s merely your preference. In the world of relativity, serial murder is just as valid saving the whales. Further, the mere fact you think the question is stupid is forming a judgement.

Doesn’t the Bible say, “Don’t judge?” Is that all the Bible says? It goes on to instruct the proper way to judge. To judge with righteous judgment. Wait a second, I thought the Bible said, “Don’t judge.” When considering what the Bible says, think about what Paul Washer says. He says it so eloquently in KJV style. In response to this particular misconstrued scripture, he says, “Twist not scripture, lest ye be like Satan.” That sounds mean. Wait, I take that back because I was being judgmental.

The truth is that there is absolute truth. This truth comes from an eternal God. This is where we derive our morality. Is rape always bad? We already know the answer, but if we play Dueling Worldviews, we cannot say with any authority that rape is bad. We have an opinion.

I’m no expert. See what William Lane Craig has to say on the subject. You cannot have objective moral values based on subjective observations.

I’m no authority. I’ve just heard the argument unfold and people insist there is no God, yet there are subjective-objective moral values.

This argument gives me a headache. Some people want to suppress the truth in God so vehemently, he will accept ridiculous tenets to support his fractured worldview.

I know I must be anti-intellectual because I’m a Christian. We “blindly” hold onto crazy beliefs. Why should I accept the lie when I can plainly see the truth?

Pack Your Bags

Names can be like baggage. For better or worse, you drag your name along for a lifetime. However, one occasionally can escape their given name only to get a worse one.

My last name is peculiar, but I like it as it is uncommon. I like to identify with it. It is especially vowel-y that intimidates strangers. It flows like cool water which is fitting as my grandpa told me it meant creek. Luoma. Loo-oh-muh. Just like it’s spelled.

My name was borrowed from my grandpa. It even soan old guy’s name. He went by Ted. That’s normal enough, but my parents insisted on calling me by my initials. TJ is the epitome of uncool. I have actually spent most of my adult life running from it.

I was a disc jockey for many years. It’s a beautiful profession. You can choose any name you want and that name is the key to becoming someone else. When I started work at an active rock station I needed a flashy name. I settled on Naked Jake.

I was around 23. I thought I needed a name that would be remembered. I chose a name that cannot be forgotten. I’m 38 with a wife and three daughters now, and it no longer feels cool. It feels like a name you would give to the creeper that hangs out at the bus stop. It can’t get much worse unless you ARE the creeper at the bus stop.

It now seems that I am saddled with a mélange of monikers. My family calls me TJ. Old radio pals know me as Naked Jake. Then there are the few who call me Theodore or Theo. I’ll answer to anything, but my favorite name is Daddy.

 

 

This post is response to the Weekly Writing Challenge on names.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/writing-challenge-names/

Cinnamon Chocolate Cake

Note:  the featured image above is from a full sheet cake.  the cake wasn’t thick as I didn’t have a high walled cake pan.  Cakes are better when they are so tall they won’t fit into your mouth unless you unhinge your jaw like a rattlesnake.  Photo was taken by Josh Guthrie.

Over the past few weeks I have been looking up cake recipes and even had a few ideas of my own.  My family loved the chocolate-peanut butter cake with banana frosting.  Personally, I thought it was too sweet and the peanut butter seemed to overpower the banana.

This isn’t a cake recipe, but recently I made peanut butter-bananas foster chimachangas with marshmallow.  That was our supper one night.  Again, the family loved it, but it was too sweet for me.  I’d like to revisit both  make some adjustments to make these winners.

I have an exceedingly hard time following recipes.  Yes, I can read.  Yes, I can follow simple directions.  Just not in the kitchen.  Does that happen to you?  At the last moment, I always have something I want to change to make it better.  With this impromptu baking I have learned that cakes, breads, etc. can be very forgiving.

I did find a recipe that was anomalous.  It was a cake recipe that I had no desire to change.  I have make this cake four or five times in the past month mostly for me to gorge on, but the family loves it and so does everyone else who has tried it.

I cannot eat enough of this cinnamon-chocolate cake.  Instead of walnuts I used pecans. That’s what was in the pantry. Today’s cake was a little different as I only had enough granulated white sugar for half of what the recipe calls for. The other half was brown sugar.  See, these changes were out of necessity, otherwise I would have *gasp* followed the recipe as written.

I just ate a piece and it was moist and airy.  Doesn’t Mexican chocolate have cinnamon in it?  This recipe just has enough cinnamon to wake up the chocolate.  Chocolate is great.  The cinnamon enhances the chocolate flavor that you cannot rest until the cake is devoured.

Today's cake.  I made this four times or so in the past month.
Today’s cake. I made this four times or so in the past month.

I really wish I could take credit for this cake. I’m considering a cinnamon-maple cake with coffee frosting. If it’s worthy of sharing, you’ll be the first to know.

Chicken, Pork, and Sausage Jambalaya

I’ve been a fan of spicy cajun food my entire adult life. I began teaching myself to cook sixteen years ago and have enjoyed trying to make cajun dishes that were palatable. It is no coincidence that I started my cooking journey a week after I met my wife.

I’m sure it’s a typical story. I met Heather 12/11/2007. The following weekend she invited me over for dinner. Man, was I stoked! I love food. I can’t believe I met a woman who could cook.

I showed up for dinner at the appointed time and was surprised that we were eating Hamburger Helper. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with Hamburger Helper, but on a first meal at home you put your best foot forward. That night I decided that I was going to learn how to cook. The following weekend I began my foray.

That first meal was one I made one or two times prior. We had spaghetti with homemade sauce. It was quite tasty as I watched a friend make it numerous times. This friend was a good cook, but he never let me get any hands on experience. I watched him intently for two years as I was surfing his couch.

When I first started cooking, say the first five years, not all meals were as tasty as that spaghetti. I worked until midnight and the first year or two, I would go to Albertsons after work and make pot roast, pork chops, even chicken fried steak. I’d normally eat around four am and it was common for me to crank out some meal complete with mashed potatoes and gravy. Many of these meals were disappointments, and occasionally were downright inedible. Today, I rarely make something that embarrasses me to feed to my dogs.  If I get distracted the dogs may have some awful treat to enjoy.

My culinary skills have vastly improved over the past three years. I have many friends who are professional chefs and they are always happy to give me cooking tips. I like to tell people that I’m finally becoming an adequate cook.

Today, I had to make jambalaya for a catering event. I’ve made it before, but I haven’t been happy with previous efforts. There is money on the line here so I have to make sure it is acceptable.

I looked through recipes and decided I could adapt this one. I made several changes and I hope you are happy with this endeavor. I hope you try it and tell me what you think.

I just remembered that I forgot bay leaves. I intended to add maybe seven to the pot. Remember that this recipe is for 50. You can use some fancy math like division to reduce the amount. I’d do it for you except I’m lazy.

Here’s the ingredient list:
5 pounds pork loin
15 pounds bone in chicken thighs (after deboning you will have around ten pounds of meat)
5 pounds sausage
3/4 pound bacon
2 large onions
3 bell peppers
1 bunch celery
3 heaping tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons paprika
2 teaspoons white pepper
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp chili powder (I used New Mexico Hatch chili powder I ordered online)
1 tsp dried basil
2 tsp cayenne
1 tbsp dry thyme
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
10 cups rice
21 cups water
6-8 ounces chicken base

Add all dry ingredients in a bowl to add later.

Marinating pork loin.
Marinating pork loin.

Trim pork loin and cut into 1/2 inch cubes. Marinate in soy sauce, mustard powder, and white pepper.  I didn’t use a lot of any of these ingredients, just enough to coat.  Marinate in refrigerator for two hours.

Place chicken thighs on baking sheets.  Cover liberally with Tony Chachere’s cajun seasoning.  Roast at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.

Chicken cooling.  Don't forget to debone.
Chicken cooling. Don’t forget to debone.

Remove chicken from oven and let cool.  Meanwhile, chop vegetables.  Since you have the knife out, chop smoked sausage into 1/4″ rounds.

Down Home is one of my favorite sausages.  They manufacture it in Stonewall, LA, which is maybe fifteen minutes from where I live.  I couldn’t find a website for the company, but I included a link to a radio station I used to work at where they give the down low on the Down Home.  No, I have not received any plugola.  If they gave me free sausage, there would be plugola, but I would tell you about it.  Somehow, I don’t think it’s plugola unless it’s a secret, though.

Last thing to cut up is to cut up the bacon.  Cut that into small pieces.  Once cut, toss the bacon into a heated pot to render.  Once partially rendered, throw in the marinated pork loin.  After it is browned it is time to put the sausage in.

I was watching some cooking show a couple of years ago where this old man was cooking a monster pot of jambalaya outside.  He kept saying that you want to cook the sausage so it is scabbed up.  He’s right, you want scabby sausage.  I was unable to do it this time because of the sheer volume, but when I have a manageable batch, I cook the sausage so it is nice and scabby.

Before you blow scabby chunks, let me explain.  This old cajun may or may not have gotten all technical on us, but he was describing the maillard reaction.  Chemistry stuff happens to the meat when you brown it.  Think of a really nice crust on a steak.  That crust is the scab this old coot was describing.

No scabs on the sausage. I’m just not awesome enough to do it with this huge batch. If I had a tilt skillet, though, I would’ve rocked the scabs.

When you have a scabbed up pot of sausage, you want to add the vegetables and saute until soft and the onion is translucent.  I wait until this moment to add the chicken.  Remember that chicken?  Well, we forgot to debone it.  So, before you burn up a pot of meat, be sure to have deboned the chicken prior to firing up the stove.  After it’s deboned, I spread it back onto a baking sheet, apply some more Tony Cachere’s, and let it crisp up some at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Now that we are back on track, don’t add the chicken until the vegetables are sauteed.  This way, you can avoid tearing up the meat from over stirring and whatnot.

This is the moment to add your dry spices and Worcestershire sauce.

I add the base to the water and stir until well mixed.  Then it’s time to add the rice and base-infused water.

Jambalaya is ready to simmer.
Jambalaya is ready to simmer.

Simmer the conglomeration of meat and rice for around 50 minutes while occasionally stirring.  It is actually desirable to have the food stick to the bottom of the pan to get some crusty bits.  Remember?  Maillard reaction?

One big, swingin' pot of jambalaya.

Once the water is absorbed, it’s time to eat.  Enjoy.

Best. Cornbread. Ever.

I have to admit that I don’t eat cornbread very often. I like it alright, but I think the sensation of having sand in your bread is a bit off-putting.

There are basically two types of cornbread: sweet cornbread and not sweet cornbread. I mistakenly thought southerners like sweet cornbread. I guess I shouldn’t make assumptions based on a southern friend who always shared his sweet cornbread with me at work.

I had a catering event yesterday and made a nice batch of cornbread. As a matter of fact, I was so enamored by it, I had to continually share my experience.

The caterees also shared their experiences. They likened the cornbread to cake and claim they thought they had two desserts. Claim #1: cake is good. Cakey cornbread is great. Claim #2: are two desserts such a bad thing? Of course not.

I perused many recipes and finally found one that I wanted to adapt.

1/2 cup corn meal
1 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar (I reduced the sugar. I can’t stand hyper sweet)
1 1/4 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup oil
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon honey
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups buttermilk (buttermilk rocks for baking)
1 tablespoon cinnamon (trust me)

The directions are all the same in the original recipe except after the cornbread comes out of the oven.

This is when you grab a stick of butter and slather it over the top. There is nothing more satisfying. You don’t melt the whole stick, just enough to butter the top.

Finally, lightly dust the cornbread with cinnamon. It really makes it come alive. I know it may sound unconventional, but I’m sure you will enjoy it.

I now know that southerners should like sweet, cakey cornbread. And unsweetened iced tea.

BBQ Chronicles: Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Q–Tyler, TX

Every five years, Texas Monthly publishes their Top 50 BBQ joints in Texas. The last list was released about a year ago and I decided that I needed to visit all 50 joints before the new list is released. Good thing I don’t live in Delaware. That would be a lot of miles.

I think the search for the best BBQ feeds an innate need for accomplishment. I hate sports. Bass fishing has too much action. All that casting tires me out.

I like fishing, but I enjoy the type where you go to the lake, cast out without a hook, and take a nap. If you make the mistake by putting a hook on your line, some fish may interrupt your slumber. I also have a short attention span and thinking about fishing can interrupt blissful thoughts of eating tender barbecue.

20140417-180953.jpg

I’ve been to seven or eight joints on the list, and most have proven to be solid BBQ joints. Among my favorites (so far) happens to be only about ninety minutes from home.

Now, before we discuss some serious BBQ, I should let you know that I’m not a shill for this restaurant or any other establishment I may have discussed. I’m a hack. Big time hack. I’m so hackneyed that a college professor called me a hack. That professor was the Dean of the a humanities department. That makes me hack du jour. As far as I can tell, hacks do not receive promotional consideration. If I’m wrong about that, I need to get some free andouille and alligator meat.

Stanley’s Famous Pit Barbecue in Tyler, TX is well worth the drive. I haven’t been to any joint in Texas in the past few months because Dave Ramsey says we can’t afford it. If I don’t get any ‘cue soon I’m gonna have to tell Dave to shove it.

20140417-182025.jpg

Stanley’s had some incredible ribs even though the meat pulled away from the bone a little to readily. The fatty brisket was a treat. I had only recently learned that fatty brisket was a delicacy when I stopped by Black’s in Lockhart, TX. Now, if you are looking for beef ribs with a two pound clod of meat hanging from the end of it…oh, did I mention the beans? Stanley’s beans had a distinct black pepper flavor that set them apart from other establishments’ beans. They were certainly travel worthy.

20140417-181713.jpg

I also really enjoyed the mustard potato salad. The tanginess helped transition the palate much like ginger does when you eat sushi. I think it has similar health benefits as well.

There you have it. If you’re within three hours, I would say it is worth the drive much like Hutchins BBQ in McKinney, TX is worth a four four drive. I have considered that I am biased, but I decided that I am not.

I'm just a hack who likes to eat.

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