Lending a Helping Tentacle



This is a little day-in-the-life I wrote earlier this winter that I thought I would share. Enjoy!


Winter 2015


The sun is shining, the birds are singing, even the trees are freezing their asses off – it’s that cold outside. What a day! A day to huddle inside. A day to make muffins.

“Dadda, Dadda, I’m gonna help you.”

Wut? He noticed. Somehow Boy’s supersonic antennae read a change in the air. Perhaps alerted by an increase in atmospheric gluten set off the moment that the flour canister shifted, I know he’s on to me.

Now that the offer of assistance has been made and regardless of my consent, we’ve entered into a binding contract. Allow me to help make muffins or feel the full weight of my shit-nuttery.

It’s okay. I actually enjoy it when he helps, even though everything takes twice as long and there is the potential for disaster around every corner. What takes a bit of getting used to is the sudden boost in household activity. A moment ago I was sucking back a second cup of coffee and trying to remember where I left my pants. Suddenly, chairs are being pushed up against the counter and I need to kung-fu block his hands before they test the edge of the paring knife I left out or the razor-sharp blades of a micro-plane that he somehow managed to dig out of the drawer.

The real trial comes when the ingredients start to emerge. Our routine actually works pretty well. I scoop the flour, Boy dumps it in the bowl. I pour the oil into the measuring cup, Boy chucks most of it on the counter. Somehow he manages to get a hand on every surface and into each powder and liquid. He mixes the flour and spices around (actually rather helpful) and tests the viscosity of the egg whites (not so much).

By the time the muffins are ready for the oven and I’ve dislodged most of the brown sugar from my underpants, we both look like we’ve had the baker’s version of a wet t-shirt party, flour poured over our heads and vanilla dabbed behind each ear.

The muffin tins slide into the oven and quiet settles over the land. Boy moves onto some other activity, reading a book in silence or trying to see if he can work the blender, and I go looking for more coffee or double bypass surgery. It’s like having an ink-firing squid as an assistant, with tentacles that latch onto every surface and the innate ability to make more mess than seems possible with something as benign as a muffin.

Is it worth it? Wouldn’t a bag of oatmeal make for easier cheaper breakfasts?

Absolutely (on both counts).

People say that anyone who can read a recipe can bake, which I believe is true. But, and this is important, can anyone tell whether a batch of bread dough is ready by touching it? Do they know if a cake needs a few more minutes in the oven by the smell? I was kneading dough with my mother likely before I could walk and Wife has been around so many rising pastries that she never sets a timer. This kitchen muscle memory, imparted at such an early age, is irreplaceable. It would be a poor repayment of my mom’s patience if I was scared off by a bit of baking soda in the eyes.

At the same time, Boy’s desire to help is one of his finest attributes. It’s meant that cleaning up toys is a no-brainer. All I have to do is start and he pitches right in. I hold out hope that he’ll keep this virtue right through his teenage years (harharhar).

I would love to stay typing all day, but the timer is about to go off and it’s time to spend the next half hour keeping a pair of paws away from a screaming hot pan. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll put down the keyboard. I just found some eggshells in my one of my socks.

Applesauce Spice Bread


The impetus behind this recipe was solving a refrigerator issue. There is nothing so sublime as a pork chop slathered in sweet and tangy applesauce, that sweet and savory combo I’ve come to appreciate so much as I’ve gotten older. However, there is inevitably a half jar of applesauce in the door of the fridge that hangs out longer than it should. Applesauce is a staple in our house, something we like to make in the fall when the apples are cheap and at their best. We have found though, that we don’t eat as much as we put up. That’s where this recipe comes in.

Using up a whole cup of applesauce, this moist bread is a perfect breakfast or an even better mid-morning snack. It can be toasted in a skillet and spread with peanut butter or cream cheese.

The Recipe:

2 Eggs
1 Cup Applesauce
¾ Cup Sugar
¼ Cup Packed Brown Sugar
½ Cup Melted Butter
¼ Cup Sour Cream (Or Greek Yogurt)
2 Teaspoons Vanilla

1 Cup White Whole Wheat Flour (Plain whole wheat would work too)
¾ Cup All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
½ Teaspoon Baking Powder
½ Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
½ Teaspoon Nutmeg
⅛ Teaspoon Ground Cloves
⅛ Teaspoon Allspice

The Process:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spray one standard loaf pan. In a large bowl, beat together the first 7 ingredients. In another bowl whisk the dry ingredients together. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and fold them together just until the flour disappears. Pour the thick batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the bread cool for at least 30 minutes before removing it from the loaf pan.

Blogging Again – The Same But Different

I decided to start blogging again. Actually, I decided a few weeks ago. What prevented me from actually sitting down and posting, is not knowing where to start.

I could have just picked up where I left off, posted a recipe and pretended that nothing had happened. After much thought, I decided that wasn’t a genuine approach. I can’t go forward without acknowledging that I’m not the same person and everything has changed.

The only thing I could think of to write about while I am grieving, is grief itself. I won’t pretend to know what other people go through, I simply aim to share some of my own thoughts and experiences.

There’s no point in going into what happened. This is a public blog and the internet is full of people with their own problems. Suffice to say that tragedy struck and there was no way I could have prepared for it.

The first thing I would note is that there’s no guide book to grieving. There aren’t any stages either. Saying that grief comes in stages suggest that there is some order or process involved. That you will first go through one emotion that will neatly lead into the next. My experience wasn’t like that at all. Instead, the different emotions inevitably came as stabs from a blindingly sharp needle, sometimes one at a time and sometimes all jumbled up. Though it sounds irrational, it is possible to be happy and unbearably sad at the same time. Along with the grief can come feelings of guilt. Guilt for not feeling or for feeling too much. Guilt for not doing something when there is nothing you can do. Guilt for somehow angering God or the universe and bringing it all down on you and your family.

Another side of grief that I never would have expected was in the random arrangement of it all. There are times when I sit down, maybe looking at a poignant picture, and expect a flood of emotion. Instead there is only emptiness and distraction. Suddenly it sneaks up on you like a wild cat, tail twitching, to pounce when you least expect or want it, in the shower or walking the aisles of the grocery store.

Perhaps this is just me, but I am totally unequipped to deal with people who want to console me. In the first few weeks, my worst fear was to be recognized somewhere. That I would be seen away from home and then approached and hugged. As the well-meaning friend would put an arm around my shoulder, I would be searching desperately for a shovel and pickaxe so I could tunnel my way out. My brain understood the intentions of the other person, seeking to comfort, but my body would just seize up.

“How’s it going,” sounds like such a benign phrase. It’s one of the most common ways to greet someone, especially among men. For quite a while it left me stammering. I couldn’t answer with the normal, “Good. How are you?” That would have been a bald-faced lie; I was anything but good. Instead I would stammer, “Uhh.. Okay…” which just piled onto the discomfort of the situation. I finally settled on the oh-so-banal reply, “Hangin in there.” At least it avoided feigned cheer.

In the months that have followed, I don’t really know if I have started to heal or not. Somthing I heard once best describes where things have settled down – that the pain doesn’t grow less with time, you just feel it less often. I’m sure there are as many ways of coping as there are people in the world. I have taken to saying a rosary every weekday, 15 minutes where I can feel things and think, or not, but be free from the distraction of the internet or books or housework. I try to find gratitude even in the worst situations, to be grateful that these changes in my life may have helped me to be a better person.

And that’s that. I’m sure my next post will be silly or maybe delicious and I don’t intend to dwell on the negative in this space, but it didn’t feel right going on without speaking to my absence as well as perhaps a change in tone. I know that I don’t feel the same and that it stands to reason I might not write the same either.


Spatchcock Chicken with Sweet Potato Gnocchi


So first I’m going to apologize for my camera. This is a photo-heavy post and my camera is a stinker. That being said, I had so much fun making this dinner that I had to share.

I’ve been reading about spatchcocking ever since I heard it proposed as a way to do up Thanksgiving turkey. Alas, our turkey will be much too large to do this way. Anything over 12-15lbs. is unlikely to fit on a standard half sheet pan. I consoled myself by making this chicken that was chilling (hehe) in the freezer.

The core point I want to make is that this was a normal meal, not at all fancy. I think I made it on a Tuesday and it was really easy. Economical too, as I’ll prove in the next photo.

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There you have it. Less than 7 bucks for an 8lb. roasting turkey. It was on a great sale so guess what? We got 2! They’ve been frozen for the past few weeks and ready for a weekday meal. As we get to the bottom of the post you’ll see how far the depths of my cheapskatery goes.

By the way, someday I would love to raise all my own chickens or buy only local happy birds. Unfortunately that is a dream for a deeper pocketed future.

Let’s start with step 1 shall we. I want to give you an idea for the steps as I went through them to show the timing and the whole scope of the meal, so I’m going to skip back and forth between chicken and gnocchi. I’m not going to worry about spelling out the recipe for the gnocchi.  This was what I used.

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I roasted the sweet potatoes until they were nice and soft, let them cool and then scooped out the flesh and put it through a potato ricer. If you don’t have a ricer there are other ways to skin the cat. I set them aside and started on the chicken. (And yes I do have a jar of jelly beans on the counter. Don’t you?)

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With something as icky as raw chicken, it’s worth getting things ready before you start hacking away at it. All you need are a sharp knife and a pair of kitchen shears. And that bag? That’s where I stick the neck and the backbone, which we’ll be removing shortly. See, I really am that cheap. Why not get another few meals of chicken soup with a flavor-packed and free broth?

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Flip the chicken over so that  the breast side is down. Now cut down each side of the backbone with the shears. I even drew some fancy lines.

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It should look like this gruesome murder victim.

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Next, make a cut right at the breastbone where I have the handy little arrow. You should be able to splay the chicken apart now and have it lie flat.

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For flavoring I used the zest of a lemon, some dried pounded rosemary, salt, and butter. Mix them all together and slather the skin with the greasy concoction. Lay the bird on a cooling rack placed on a foil lined baking sheet. I even stuck the slices of the lemon under the rack to add some steam to the underside as the chicken cooked.

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Bake at 475 degrees but be careful, it takes a lot less time to roast than a roasting pan chicken. The large bird I had took about an hour. Most would probably be done in about 45 minutes.

Time to swing back to sweet potato gnocchi.

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Add the egg and cheese to the sweet potatoes. Use enough flour so that it makes a dough that holds together but is still quite soft. The less flour you can get away with, the fluffier the finished product.

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It should look kinda like this.

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Divide the dough into 4 and then roll each piece into a log. Cut into little chunks with a knife or bench scraper. At this point most people tell you to roll them on the back of a fork or something. I was trying to cut down on work and there wasn’t a thick sauce to sop up so I didn’t bother. They still tasted just as good as the fancy looking ones.

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Drop them into boiling salted water and after they float let them cook another 2-3 minutes. I finished mine in a pan with butter and sage. Make sure you let them brown and don’t fuss with them too much. That way you get the crispy bits on the bottom.


Once the chicken is 155 degrees on the breast and at least 165 on the legs, pull it out and let it rest for 10 minutes. Carve and serve with the gnocchi and maybe something green. I wish my final photo did the meal more justice. The chicken was bursting with juice with a crackling skin. The gnocchi were warm, hearty, and mildly sweet. Well worth the time and small amount of money expended.


100% Whole Wheat Oatmeal Cookies (Master Recipe)


I planned on posting the second installment of my short story exercise. I even had the post all ready to go. After reading it through, which I hadn’t done in a while, I realized how violent the story was. I don’t necessarily think it’s bad, it just doesn’t really reflect what I enjoy writing or reading these days.  I also worry that some of you who read this might read it just because you know me, and I don’t want to subject anyone to something that makes them feel uncomfortable. I’m still planning on posting story #3, but in the mean time I thought we could all get behind cookies.

There are thousands of recipes for drop cookies out there. Most of them are blessed by being delicious and simple to make. At the end of the day though, you only ever really need one or two. This recipe is meant to be a base for a great oatmeal cookie, into which you can add any of the nuts, chunks, chips or fruit you may want. What makes them even better is that they are 100% whole wheat.

The Recipe:

½ Cups Butter
½ Cups Shortening
213g Brown Sugar
67g Sugar
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
¾ Teaspoon Salt
14g Cider Vinegar
1 Egg
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
198g White Whole Wheat Flour
85g Quick Cooking Oats
350-500g Nuts, Chunks, Chips, or, Fruit


The Process:

This really is a dump-it-in-and-go recipe. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Blend together the butter, shortening, sugars, vanilla, salt, and vinegar until it is nice and creamy.



“Now wait”, you say. “Vinegar in cookies?”

Yes indeed. It reacts with the baking soda and gives these whole wheat cookies a nice lightness. I also think it tempers the sweetness of the sugar.

Do it!



Back on track.

Blend in the egg and baking soda then add the flour and the oats. If you only have old fashioned oats you can smash them in a food processor. That’s what I did. Using the old fashioned oats straight will give you a cookie that spreads more.

Now throw in your chosen add-ins. I went with chocolate chips, walnuts, and crisped rice. I’m serious, you can’t go wrong here.



This is the part where I might do it differently next time. I scooped my cookies right away, and on a warm evening the dough was VERY soft. Putting the dough in the fridge for half and hour would make for chewier cookies that don’t spread quite as much.


Now, or in half an hour, scoop the dough onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. I went with the tablespoon sized scoop. Bigger or smaller works fine. Just adjust the baking time.


Bake at 350 degrees until brown around the edges and still soft in the middle. Mine took 10 minutes in my oven. The batch made about four dozen.


Let them cool for a nanosecond and eat, eat, EAT.

Learning with Words

A Twitter conversation I had the other day with Ann Leckie (@ann_leckie)  and Bee Sriduangkaew (@bees_ja) got me thinking. We were discussing the merits of writing short stories and how some writers seem to treat them as a training ground for writing novels. The problem with that, is many of the authors trying to write short fiction to break out in publication, don’t actually read short stories.

I mentioned that I used short stories as a training ground for my novel writing, but without any real hopes of making money from them. They taught me things about story mechanics and dialogue that could be condensed and critiqued without slamming out a whole novel.

I decided that the best thing I could do with these quirky tales, is to share them here. I’m probably not the right person to judge, but I think they all have a few things that might make them tough to sell. I think they’re fun though, and I hope you do too.

So here goes, story 1 of 3. I guess you could call it fantasy humor, or just weird.


A Guy in My Yard

I stood in front of my kitchen sink, eating Cheese Whiz with a spoon from the jar, trying to pretend I hadn’t sunk so low.

The supreme being of the universe sat in my backyard. Of course I didn’t know it at the time. To me he looked like a teenager with a missed-a-spot mustache and floppy sneakers.

I looked at the calendar on my fridge. November 28th. I assumed it was another Movember experiment gone bad.

He was lounging on my plastic Adirondack chair, sipping a bottle of Dr. Pepper. Half vodka I assumed.

I stepped onto the back porch. “Who are you and what in tarnation are you doing in my yard?”

“I’ve had it.,” he replied. “It’s 2014 and the Earth has really gone for a nose dive. There’s war and melting ice caps and I’ve got a bit of popcorn stuck in my teeth.” He sounded pouty, petulant, and obviously deranged.

Okay, I thought, maybe more than vodka in the Dr. Pepper. “I’m calling the cops.”

“Just wait one minute, Peppy.” He waggled a finger at me.


“I’m the supreme being of the universe. I could blink you out of existence with a sneeze.”

I shook my head. Kids these days. “Definitely calling the cops now.” I reached for my cell phone.

“Don’t believe me, eh?” He pressed his finger to the inside of his mouth and made that popping sound babies really like.

The whole earth shook like someone had reached out and slapped it’s rump. Inside the house my collection of ceramic pig figurines crashed to the floor.

“See,” he said as I tried to pry myself up off the deck. “That was a victory for good taste too. Seriously? Pig figurines?”

Damn, this guy seemed like the real deal. How long had it been since I’d said confession. Damn. I’d never said confession.

“So I think I’ve decided that this planet has to go.” He raised his hand and it looked like he was just about to snap his fingers.

“Wait!” I cried. “What about all the people? You can’t snuff out a whole planet.”

“You mean the same people who canceled Firefly?”

I stared at him while my brain jogged to catch up. I thought he was going to need to be convinced of the inherent goodness of mankind. I was going to need a different approach. “They made Serenity.”

“Not the same.”

“What about music? The world is filled with beautiful music. Bach…Chopin… that other guy with the hair?”

“Yeah,” he shrugged. “Obviously you care as much about classical music as I do.”

I was desperate. “Beyonce?”

His face reddened. “Okay, yeah, sure. But Bieber?”

Destruction seemed imminent. “Wait! What about all the innocent little critters? Bambi and Thumper?”

“I got stung by a wasp the other day. I still have a welt.” He pushed up the sleeve of his hoody and showed me a little red bump on his forearm.

It was looking bad. I grabbed my cell phone and got onto the AWW sub-reddit.

“Don’t do it. Don’t you dare,” he shouted.

I punched in “Shar-Pei puppies” and swung the screen around so he could see it.

“Nooooo.” He tried, not very hard, to cover his eyes. Finally, he shifted in his seat and took another swig of his soda. It was a sign that he wasn’t convinced but was willing to give me another shot.

“Literature?”I asked. “Twain, Longfellow, Kerouac?”

“Pompous, pompous, baked.”

I was seeing a real pattern form. “Twilight?”

He tried to remain expressionless but I could see him struggling.

“Team Edward or team Jacob?” I asked.

His facade cracked. “That flea infested hound doesn’t hold a candle to my alabaster skinned beefcake.”

I was starting to get under his skin. “Marvel movies?”

“Well sure but…”


“I could totally pwn you. Ummm, no wait.”

“Cool Ranch Doritos?”

“Okay, but…”

“Dr. Who?”

“They got rid of David Tennant.” He gripped his Dr. Pepper so hard it started to froth up.

“Sean Connery as Bond?”

“Stop it.” He began to rise from the chair. “One more word and I’ll vaporize you with my pinky finger.” His words were harsh but he’d slipped into a bad Scottish brogue.

I weighed my options. It seemed likely that he would incinerate the planet no matter what I did. I closed my eyes, gritted my teeth, and waited for the end to come.

“Friends?” I said from between tight lips.

“Oh fine!” There was a loud thunderclap and a faint whiff of sulfur.

He was gone when I opened my eyes and an empty bottle of Dr. Pepper lay in the grass.

I never did find out if I’d convinced him of the enduring power of friendship or if he just couldn’t live without Rachel and Chandler.



Old Fashioned Sour Cream Doughnuts

Because my wife is awesome and you should all be jealous, I present you with this photo:



The recipe came from this blog and they were amazing. The really great (and scary) part of these babies, is that they’re just leavened with baking powder. There aren’t any long rise times to keep you from the fried dough awesomeness.  The doughnut front and center is one that we altered by throwing some cinnamon into the glaze, perfect for a chilly fall day.


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