Love and Reading

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

James Baldwin

It’s also my favorite thing about the internet – all of the people who thought they were alone and had no way to describe how they felt suddenly found they weren’t alone in the world.

The web’s not perfect, but for all of the bad stuff, there’s this. No matter what we’re going through, there’s someone out there who’s not only lived it, but written it down and shared it with the world, and we can go find it, and maybe a small bit of peace.

Instant Pot Chicken Stock Gone Wild

We got an Instant Pot after Thanksgiving, and it’s probably the single greatest kitchen purchase I’ve ever made. We make dinner in it at least three times a week now.

My latest Instant Pot adventure is an attempt to cure my cold with chicken stock. I took what I liked from the Hainanese Chicken (garlic, ginger and green onions) and combined with with a classic chicken stock recipe (onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves) and ended up with a delicious delicious monster.

This cold doesn’t stand a chance.

Here’s the approximate recipe:

Ingredients

  • 1 small whole roaster, quartered (or you can just throw in some backs and thighs).
  • 2 large onions, quartered, also take the backbone out separately
  • 2 large carrots, sliced
  • 4 celery ribs, sliced
  • 5-6 green onions, chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3″ finger of ginger, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • a bunch of black pepper (6-7 turns of our big grinder or, I don’t know, a dozen whole peppercorns)
  • 4 slices of bacon, chopped (I forgot about that… I had some, so I threw it in)

Directions

  1. Turn your Instant Pot on Saute
  2. Throw in the bacon and stir it around until it’s rendered out a bunch of oil. I also threw in the backbone here to render out some chicken fat just for fun.
  3. Throw in the garlic and ginger and stir until you can really smell them (you don’t want them to burn)
  4. Cancel the saute.
  5. Throw in all the veggies
  6. This is the tricky part… it took a little fiddling to fit all the chicken in, but you can do it! I laid the leg quarters next to each other and then the breast pieces fit in along the sides. You might need to squish the veggies down. Or, it might work better to put the chicken on the bottom and the veggies on top. I don’t know. Do whatever works for you.
  7. Pour in enough water to get to the Max line (but not over, seriously, the Instant Pot gods will be angry)
  8. Put the lid on, seal it up, hit the Soup button and then set the time to 60 minutes.
  9. Let it naturally release (don’t go in and flip the vent thingy as soon as it beeps). That full, it’ll take at least 20 minutes and mine took 40.
  10. Pull out the chicken and then strain everything else through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth.

I served mine with just the shredded chicken and some rice noodles. The veggies from the pot were all pretty obliterated and mushy, so I didn’t want them. But, they were tasty, so that’s up to you.

I thought of it more like ramen broth where I’m adding it to pre-cooked noodles, meat and other veggies. And it was tasty, so I don’t think I was wrong.

Enjoy!

Of Safety Pins and Paperclips

I’m conflicted about the whole safety pin thing. It’s an easy gesture and I’m afraid that it will provide comfort only to the people who wear it, not to those actually in need of comfort. I’m afraid that the people who wear it will think their work is done because they put on their safety pin, when it should be just the beginning. I’m skeptical because we’ve made these gestures before and not followed through, not finished the work, and we’ve abandoned those in need because our attention spans are short, and there’s always a shiny new cause to support that makes us feel better about ourselves.

I wanted to find out more about its origins and found an article about the Norwegian version – the paperclip.

Like a safety pin, the paperclip works as a symbol because it binds things together. Like the safety pin in the Netherlands, wearing a paperclip became a crime; there was real risk in wearing one.

The thing that struck me from the story was in the “bonus facts” below. The paperclip was just the beginning. Ordered to teach Naziism in school, 12,000 Norwegian teachers went on strike. Many were sent to prison camps. The Nazis realized having kids out of school hurt more than the teachers not promoting their cause, so they relented.

The clergy was ordered to teach obedience to the “leader and the state”. When every bishop and 90% of the clergy in the country resigned, the Nazis again relented.

More than 1,000 Jews were smuggled into Sweden by the resistance.

The Dutch were no slouches either. They carried out repeated demonstrations and non-violent strikes against the deportation of Jews from the Netherlands. No other country had as may strikes and protests as the Dutch – and they faced harsh reprisals from the Nazis each time.

The Dutch had a massive underground press with over 1,100 different titles, some of which are still around and are major papers in the country. They set up underground financing and had a massive social services network that provided financial, medical and other support to the Dutch people.

All of that is to say, they didn’t just wear safety pins and paperclips. They got to work and did what they could, under terrible conditions and at great personal risk.

I like the idea of the safety pin, because it’s meant to be temporary until you actually repair the damage.

I think donating, and setting up a recurring donation, to national non-profits is a great thing to do. The ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, Human Rights Campaign and others will be kept really busy for the next four years, as we can expect the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department to be gutted like it was during the Bush years or worse (probably worse). But, while you’re donating, please look for a local non-profit to donate money and time to.

I’ll elaborate… This election came as a shock to a lot of us who thought we were farther along as a country than we really are. It was easy to call ourselves progressive and cheer on those doing the work from the sidelines, post to social media about the issue of the day, and feel like we’d done something of value. It turns out, no one was listening, and we didn’t change any minds.

Before anyone still reading this post and starts tutting… I accept the results of the election:

  • Two very unpopular people were the two major parties’ nominees for president.
  • One of them got over two million more votes and lost to a man who (this is a partial list) called immigrants racists, criminals and terrorists, called for the banning of an entire religion from the country, denied knowing anything about David Duke or the KKK, openly mocked a disabled reporter, called for protestors to be beaten, has said (and probably done) terrible things about women, and that almost seventy percent of the country feel is unfit to be President.
  • A lot of people stayed home because they couldn’t decide between two people they didn’t trust.

That result is real, and it’s not going to change. Me being sad about it will not change it. Me being angry will not change it. Me trying to decide who’s to blame for the result will not change it. All I can do is decide what I do about it after accepting that I can’t change it.

For me, this is a wake up call. If I sit on the sidelines now, and assume someone else will do the work, I won’t be able to look at myself in the mirror or call myself a progressive.

I could shake my tiny fist at the sky and lament what’s happening in Washington, but that won’t change anything. So, I’ll be watching them, but I’m going to act locally. My neighbors will be affected by the policies enacted in the next four years. Many of them are afraid and a lot of them are already being targeted by hate.

I wasn’t doing nothing before, but that no longer feels like enough.

There are already great non-profits in Savannah working on things I care about: poverty, education, technology literacy. There are probably great non-profits working in your community too. I’m trying to resist the urge to start something new – because that’s alway my first instinct. Starting things is exciting because I can design it from scratch, and I don’t have to understand an existing dynamic – but it’s a waste of time. Starting things is expensive, both in time and resources, and we don’t have enough of either. So, I’ll pick something (or a few things) with the biggest overlap in the Venn diagram of things I care about, things I can help with, and what will have the biggest impact.

Because we won’t make this country a better place by having another comment duel on Facebook, favoriting a tweet, posting a pithy meme, or by standing on the sidelines of democracy or of our communities and watching people do the work. The world has enough cheerleaders and more than enough pundits. The world needs more people to roll up their sleeves and serve; there’s a lot to do.

I don’t think I’ll wear a safety pin on my collar… I’m going to learn how to sew.

For Further Learning… Web Development Style

I sent this list out to yesterday’s RailsBridge students as next steps if the introductory class lit a fire and they want to learn more. And then I realized it’s a pretty good list, so I’ll share it here too!

Local Savannah Things

For Further Learning

Yesterday’s class was great. Lots of teachers in the room and lots of people who had no idea that web development was accessible to “normal” people. It was tons of fun and a great way to shake off a pretty terrible week.

Interest and Concern

I’m still processing what happened last night and how I got it so very very wrong (it’s really no consolation that almost everyone else also got it wrong). I was looking for something to cheer me up this morning, and I found this quote from FDR (emphasis mine).

But here is the challenge to our democracy: In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizens – a substantial part of its whole population – who at this very moment are denied the greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call the necessities of life… I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished. But, it is not in despair that I paint you that picture. I paint it for you in hope – because the nation, seeing and understanding the injustice in it, propose to paint it out. We are determined to make every American citizen the subject of his country’s interest and concern; and we will never regard any faithful law-abiding group within our borders as superfluous. The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. Franklin Delanor Roosevelt

I don’t know how to fix any of this or how to help, but I think it starts with conversations: in person and across divides. If we can at least show “interest and concern” for each other in our communities, we can make some progress.

Running Unopposed

Looking at my sample ballot for November, and I’m depressed at how many people are running unopposed. Out of 14 races, 8 incumbents are running without competition. They don’t have to debate. They don’t have to defend their records. That’s now how democracy is supposed to work.

We need to figure out how to get more people involved at the local and state level so people can get the experience to effectively serve at the national level. I’ve done some research and it’s economically impossible for most people to run for local or state office, or serve in even “part time” elected positions because of the time requirements and lack of pay. That means that only those who can afford to serve get the opportunity, which then means our government doesn’t represent all of us.

This is how we get ineffective, unrepresentative, unstatesmanlike, and uncompromising behavior from our elected officials – we don’t hold them to account. We don’t run against them. We don’t do anything but complain on social media or claim a “rigged” system, when we don’t even involve ourselves in it beyond cheering on our favorite team.

How do we “fix” this? We all need to look at how we’re participating in government at all levels, and pay more attention. We need to encourage qualified people to run. We need to make sure that our elected officials know we’re paying attention. We need to respectfully (and with actual facts) call them to account when they’re wrong. We need to state our cases for the issues using persuasive language, and not threats of violence or intimidation.

We get the system we let develop. If you don’t pay attention, it will be built and run by the people that are. Want something else? You gotta work for it. You have to do more than complain. You have to build a coalition of people who agree with you and provide actual solutions.

Voting is literally the least we can do to change things. It’s time we all took a long hard look at how we got here, how we’ve behaved this election, and what we’re going to do about it.

Never Give In* (Conditions Apply)

“…never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

Never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. I love that Winston gave himself a way out. When you’re confronted with superior good sense, then it’s fine to give in. Please, when I’m wrong, let me remember to give in with honor.

That whole speech is worth reading, because it feels like it could be given today, and it rings as true as it did then: “You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about giving up, not from temptation, but in definition. Giving up doesn’t mean not taking care of yourself. It doesn’t mean taking a break to recharge. It doesn’t mean sacrificing yourself on the altar of the cause – because you’re not much use to anyone if you’re dead or burned out.

I’ve realized that in order to be more useful, I need to be healthier, which means maybe not doing as much in the short term and spending more time on me, which feels selfish.

But it’s not. If I’m healthier, I’ll have more energy for the fight. I’ll be able to do more, not less.

So, I might miss some meetings, but it’s because I’m doing these stupid exercises and not eating brownies.

Never give in. Never, never, never, never.

Stop Spreading Hate

When you share ignorant myths about trans people, minorities, share racist, sexist, xenophobic memes, support politicians who advocate (and sometimes pass) legislation to push already-marginalized people out of public life, you’re encouraging people with just slightly less self control than you to hurt other people.

When you support bullies, strongmen, and bigots, you’re continuing the cycle that ends up in people getting hurt and killed.

Stop and think about the people affected by this stuff. They’re actual real human beings with families and friends who will miss them if they’re gone.

I’m tired of losing friends and having friends afraid to go out in public as themselves because some asshole might kill them just for being who they are.

These people are fighting for their rights to be seen as full members of society. You’re fighting for your right to continue to keep them in the closet (which isn’t a right, it’s a privilege, one that we should all be willing to give up so others can enjoy the same rights we do), and to not have your precious beliefs challenged. There is a huge difference.

History is not on your side, nor will it be kind.

Silly Games With Movie Titles

There’s a game going around Facebook where you remove a letter from a movie title to make a new movie and then you have to come up with the plot. I love these games.

Here are my entries (so far). Feel free to add your own:

  • Star Was: the story of a dying star and the planets that mourn its passing
  • I, Root: The first self-aware potato seeks its place in the world
  • Finding Emo: Emo Phillips has gone missing and it’s up to Bobcat Goldthwait and his ragtag gang of 80’s comics to find him and bring him home.
  • An Inconvenient Ruth: You know what you did, Ruth.
  • What About OB?: A hospital planned by men forgets one VERY important department. Shenanigans ensue.
  • The Rave Little Toaster: EDM, ecstasy, and a small kitchen appliance out way past his bedtime.
  • Rainspotting: And you thought looking at trains was boring!
  • Monsters NC: The story of North Carolina’s horrible, no good, very bad governor and all his friends in the state legislature.

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Chess Pie

A close up of the incredible crust on top of the filling of the pie.
A close up of the incredible crust on top of the filling of the pie.

I entered a pie contest. It’s my first baking competition and I may have taken it a little too seriously. I spent many weekend days experimenting with different kinds of chess pie, (because the Chocolate Orange Chess Pie was such a hit at Christmas, and chess pie is delicious!). I tried a Mexican Hot Chocolate Chess Pie, which didn’t work, and then came up with the idea of a Chocolate Covered Strawberry Chess Pie and then spent a month trying to come up with a recipe that works.

This is the final product and the recipe that’s going to the competition tomorrow. It’s a lot of steps, but it’s really not that much work, and the end result is totally worth it!

I’m writing this the day before the contest, so I don’t know if it’s an award-winning pie yet, but it’s darn good, so I’m sharing it with you!

This makes two pies (because I had to make two pies for the contest). They’re so good, who doesn’t want two of them?

Ingredients for Pie Crust

  • 2.5 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 20 tablespoons of unsalted butter, cut into quarter-inch cubes
  • .25 cups ice water
  • .25 cups vodka, chilled (I keep mine in the freezer)

Ingredients for Strawberry Compote

  • 20 ounces stemmed and halved strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • pinch of salt

Ingredients for Pie Filling

  • 3 cups of sugar
  • .5 cup all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons of reserved juice from the strawberry compote
  • 6 eggs
  • 1.5 cups of cold buttermilk

Ingredients for Chocolate Layer

  • 2 cups dark chocolate chips (the better the chocolate, the better the pie)

Pie Crust Directions

  • Process 1.5 cups of flour, sugar and salt together in food processor until combined, about 5 seconds.
  • Scatter butter over top and continue to process until incorporated and mixture begins to form uneven clumps with no remaining floury bits, about 15 seconds
  • Scrape down bowl and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Sprinkle remaining flour over the top and pulse until mixture has broken up into pieces and is evenly distributed around bowl, 4-6 pulses.
  • Transfer mixture to large bowl. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. Stir and press dough together, using stiff rubber spatula until dough sticks together.
  • Divide dough into 2 even pieces. Turn each piece of dough onto sheet of plastic wrap and flatten each into a 4 inch disk. Wrap each tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour (this would be a good time to make the compote).
  • Before rolling out, let sit on the counter for 10 minutes to soften.
  • When you place the pie dough in the pie pan and trim, leave half an inch outside of the pie pan, and then fold under, then flute. This will help hold in the pie filling when it expands in the oven and make a really yummy crunchy bit of pie crust!

Strawberry Compote Directions

  • Add all ingredients to a large preheated skillet over medium heat.
  • Stir with a wooden spoon every couple of minutes to make sure things aren’t sticking to the bottom.
  • It’s done when you can easily squish the strawberries with the back of a wooden spoon.
  • Before you remove it from the heat, squish all the strawberries so they’re crushed, but don’t obliterate them.
  • Put a wire strainer over a bowl, put the compote in the strainer and drain for at least 30 minutes. You should stir the strawberries in the strainer a couple of times to make sure you get as much liquid out as possible.

Chess Pie Filling Directions

  • Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl (including the sugar) and whisk together to combine.
  • Add all the wet ingredients and whisk until smooth (for me, that’s medium on my mixer with the whisk attachment for about a minute).

Chocolate Directions

  • Put chocolate into a microwave-safe bowl
  • Put bowl in the microwave and microwave in 30 second increments, taking the bowl out of the microwave each time and stirring.
  • Once you can stir the chocolate without leaving chunks, it’s done. If it’s close to done, only microwave it for 10 seconds at a time so you don’t scorch it.

Final Assembly

  • After the crust is in the pan, pour half of the chocolate in the bottom of the pie shell.
  • On top of that, spread half the compote on top of the chocolate.
  • Now, pour half the pie filling on top of that. You want to leave at least a quarter-inch between the top of the filling and the top of the crust as the filling expands while cooking.

Baking Instructions

  • Put pie pan on a cookie sheet (they overflow sometimes) and bake on the top rack for 20 minutes.
  • After 20 minutes, move to the middle rack and bake for 20 more minutes.
  • You may need to add 5-15 minutes to the baking time depending on your oven. The pie is done when you can give it a gentle shake and you only get the tiniest of wobbles in the filling in the very center of the pie.
  • When it’s to that state, take it out and cool on a wire rack for 2 hours before refrigerating.

Acknowledgements

  • Pie crust recipe inspired by Cook’s Illustrated’s The Science of Good Cooking “foolproof double crust pie dough” recipe (I replaced the shortening with more butter).
  • Chess pie filling recipe was based on Callie Spear’s Chess Pie Recipe in Munchies

And here’s a picture of one of the ones going to the contest tomorrow:

A finished chocolate covered strawberry chess pie.
A finished chocolate covered strawberry chess pie.