Nov 042016

If we map a normalo’s life to the progression of a year, birth corresponds to a Midwestern March 1st. They start slow but soon press up like the first chutes of spring. May, ages 16–22, is a sexy month. So are the next bunch of months though, no? If we give our normaloid a healthy 91.25 years, they die at the end of February before spring vacationers disrupt the tranquility of their ultimate Florida winter.

When you were born, how many days had passed since the most recently eclipsed final day of February? Rounding up, divide that by 4. Here’s a little help:

Jan 0th = 306
Feb 0th = 337
Mar 0th = 0
Arp 0th = 31
May 0th = 61
Jun 0th = 92
Jul 0th = 122
Aug 0th = 153
Sep 0th = 184
Oct 0th = 214
Nov 0th = 245
Dec 0th = 275

I was born on July 21st. That’s…
(122 + 21) / 4 = 35.75 = 36

Now that we’ve established the demand for this meta-information—this calendrical metaphorical proprioception, what do we call it? In the ones of conversations I have about this so far, I’ve called it the Platinum Birthday. The Global Hobbit Cabal seems to think there are a few other ideas for what a Platinum Birthday should be and it seems like now that we’re at the start of a century, the front runner could become more popular.

Should we take on the system and assert this method’s dominance as the one true Platinum Birthday? If you’re not up for the fight, how about Alabaster Birthday? I like that word and alabaster is nice. What do you think?

Jan 032015

Here are some pictures of a sculpture and photography installation I had up in May of 1998 at the gallery of the Fine Arts building, Kalamazoo College. Each sculpture is on pedestal looking past other sculptures to a photograph on the opposite wall. The sculpture and the content of the photograph inhabit the same context. It was fun. I hope it amuses you.


train sculpture and picture

commuter sculpture

toilet sculpture and picture

toilet sculpture

tv sculpture and picture

painter sculpture and picture

microwave sculpture and picture

hiker sculpture and picture

Oct 082014

I’ve been watching a lot of opera lately. I’m still no expert, but my guess is that this guy is giving 10% more to this role than I’ve ever seen anyone else give to theirs. He went to Venusberg.

If you have known such pleasure…
and fed it in the flames of hell…
If you have been with Venus…
then you are forever damned!

Sep 232014

Most people who know me think of me as someone who doesn’t like animals. I do, but from a distance. Don’t touch me, animals.

I’ve always liked rodents and had pet hamsters I wouldn’t touch when I was a kid. I had books about animals and the rodent section was my favorite. The pika was my favorite from those books. I had never seen one and, when I realized that nature just didn’t happen in my suburb, I got a bored and started thinking about planets instead.

I was reminded of the pika when, two years ago, Sarah and I saw this from David Attenborough’s Life of Mammals:

We were so enamored with these little guys that we called our soccer team the Fighting Pikas which I’m sure made more than a few of them laugh (thanks for reminding me, Nathan). Seeing pikas in the wild went to the top of our traveling bucket list. This weekend, at a wedding for my cousin Morgan in Colorado, we thought we had our chance.

On our way out of town after the wedding, we took a side trip up to Mt. Evans to get above the tree line but the road was closed. Lucky for us, someone on his way to kill goats offered to use his special access to the closed area to drive us in as long as we were okay walking back to our car. He dropped us 5 miles in and, with our long underwear in our pockets, we shivered our way back to our car.

We saw two pikas, did a happy dance, and got a ride back to our car from a ranger after only a mile of the hike back. What luck!

Here’s video of the second pika we saw:

And then there were these views. Oh, boy.

Mar 212014

The Surrain Augmented Thumbs Scale (SATS or “Sats”) is a new rating scale based on the Thumbs Up or Down Scale (TUDS or “Tuds”) that is easy to use for the rater and less ambiguous to consume than the Counted Star Scale (CSS or “Cuss”) or its aggregating counterpart ubiquitous in restaurant and media reviews: the Counted Whole or Partial Star Scale (CWPSS or “Cow puss”). SATS is extensible and scalable but adds concise precision to the rater’s toolbox even in its base configuration. SATS is joy to the opinionated and ignorant alike.

SATS begins with TUDS—a binary Thumbs Up (U or “thumbs up”) or Thumbs Down (D or “thumbs down”) recommendation—then augments TUDS with positive qualifications to the recommendation (+ or “Garlands”), negative qualifications (- or “Dings”), or both. Garlands and Dings are optional (OGDs or “Oh, Gods”).

SATS in Extension

The recommended configuration (SATSRC or “Sats Rock”) further extends SATS two ways. Firstly, SATSRC encourages elaborative text “Fors” (TFs) to each Garland (“Garland For”) and Ding (“Ding For”).  Secondly, SATSRC modifies TUDS by codifying the third no-thumb option (N or “meh”). SATSRC is trivial to render and autoerotic to decipher.

SATS is improvisationally extensible. Try SATSRC with RBT TF pre-OGDs.

SATS is free as in beer, speech, and a bird, e.g., eagle.

SATS in Action

To execute a SATSRC assessment (SATSA or “Satsa”), begin with the Recommendation by Thumb (RBT or “Ribbit”) to answer the essential question: would you recommend, pose aloof to, or not recommend the SATS target (T)? Following the opening thrust, step 2 qualifies or amplifies the RBT of T with OGDs. Each SATSRC OGD TF should consist of at least one word of elaboration to indicate what each OGD illuminates.  SATSRC presents these together as OGDWTFs, or in short form (SATSRCS or “Sats Ruckus”) separately as OGDs and TFs. SATS is never boring (NFB).

SATS in Diagram

SATSRC = <RBT> [(“ neat”) | “ with ” [<OGDWTF> | <OGDWTF> (“, ” < OGDWTF >…) “ and ” <OGDWTF>]]

RBT = [“thumbs up” | “thumbs down” | “meh”]

OGD = [“garlands” | “dings”] (“ for ” <text elaboration>)


SATSRCS = <RBT> (<OGD> (<OGD>…) (<TF>))

RBT = [“U”|”D”|”M”]

OGD = [“+”|”-“]

TF = “ for ” [<text elaboration> | <text elaboration> (“, ” <text elaboration> …) “ and ” <text elaboration>]

SATS in Example

You can use garlands to amplify a recommendation (or qualify a recommendation against). No one makes better tibs and wats on injera than Ras Dashen Ethiopian Restaurant in Chicago: thumbs up with garlands for superior quality or U+ for superior quality.

You can use dings to qualify a recommendation (or amplify a recommendation against). Boston, Massachusetts is lucky to have FOMU vegan ice cream, but one time my wife and I dropped by their retail location before going to dinner somewhere else and asked them if they’d be open in an hour.  They said they would but then closed early and wouldn’t serve us even though we came back when we said we would, before their posted and stated closing hours: thumbs up with dings for mendacity or U– for mendacity.

You can improvise on SATS and use Garlands and Dings in combination to simply explain yourself, observe tarnishing quintessence, acknowledge the strides of the striving or all of the above. Cancun Mexican restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts uses chicken broth in the items on the vegetarian section of their menu. If you find out by overhearing other vegetarians interrogating their waiter after you’ve already eaten most of your burrito, they’ll comp your meal even before you start dry heave-weeping at the table: thumbs down for chicken in the vegetarian menu and dings for explaining and asking for vegan-ness not waking up our waiter with garlands for at least letting us walk or D-+ for free dumb.

SATS in Conclusion

The SATS family of scales promises to clean up the littered landscape of hyperbole that is the legacy of CWPSS on the internet. SATS observes one person, one thumb as nature intended. SATS is true. SATS flies solo. SATS is satisfaction.

Jul 072012

Tom and Aga share their victory pudding after a marathon final against former champion Sarah and rookie boccer Penna.

The tournament starts late with all contestants keeping to the shade.

Everyone & fun.  That’s everyone, and that’s fun.

A late birth precludes a tournament berth.

Close call!  Doesn’t matter… we all lose.

Consider those smug mugs a gauntlet in the sand.  353 days until the next La Copa Del Budino!

Jun 192012

This is my standard, versatile fake meat. It is almost exactly the same as this recipe for seitan pastrami but quadrupled and tweaked slightly.

It makes 4 big sausages that you can freeze and use over a few months. It’s great in pasta sauce, fried up as taco meat, sliced and spread on a pizza like pepperoni, or diced and tossed in a salad.   32-40 servings

Preheat oven to 325 degrees


    • 6 cups instant gluten flour (vital wheat gluten) (order in bulk online)
    • 1 cup nutritional yeast flakes
    • 1 cup garbanzo flour (this is optional – you could also use whole wheat flour, soy flour or any other random flour you want to use up)
    • 2 Tablespoons + 2 teaspoons paprika (or if that’s too complicated, just use your 1/4 cup and fill it 2/3 of the way.)
    • 1 Tablespoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1 teaspoon ground mustard (a squirt of wet mustard works fine too, but in that case add with wet
    • ingredients)
    • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
    • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
    • 2 1/2 cups cold water
    • 1 cup tomato paste (if you don’t have it you can sub ketchup for a sweeter sausage)
    • 1/2 cup soy sauce
    • 1 cup olive oil (or any flavorless oil, such as canola)
    • 12 cloves garlic, pressed (if this sounds like a pain, just toss in 2 T of garlic powder but add with dry ingredients)

Mix the dry ingredients (flours, yeast flakes and spices) with a fork in a large mixing bowl. Stir the liquid ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl. Pour theliquid into the dry ingredients, and mix them thoroughly. You will have to get in there with your bare hands and knead. If there is still flour around the edges, addwater a few tablespoons at a time until you have one big gluey dough ball.

Knead the gluten directly in the mixing bowl for about a minute. Pull it apart into 4 chunks (you can use a scale to make them of even weight.) Form the gluten into four sausages, each about 8 inches long. Cut 4 pieces of parchment paper and 4 pieces of foil, and wrap each sausage tightly in parchment paper then foil the ends and place the sausage seam side down onto a dry cookie sheet. Nestle all 4 sausages so they are touching on the sheet and put in the oven.

Bake the sausage for 1 1/2 hours at 325. When done, unwrap the seitan, transfer it to a cooling rack, and let it cool thoroughly. When completely cool, wrap the seitan tightly in plastic wrap and store in the freezer (for a few months) or the fridge (for a week or so). I like to keep one in the fridge and the rest in the freezer and I thaw them out as needed.

Apr 052012

I have been taking flamenco dance lessons for the past 3 years, building slowly from once a week dabbling at the Old Town School of Folk Music to 4 classes a week with Chiara Mangiameli at her studio in Logan Square. It’s a formidable dance style to study, especially for someone like me who didn’t have any dance training going into it. But I love that it is graceful, forceful, emotional and athletic all at once, and works for me as both exercise and artistic expression. As a bonus, sometimes I get to perform! The next show I’ll be dancing in is called “A Traves del Espejo” and it will be at the Adventure Stage Chicago (formerly known as the Vittum Theater) Friday May 18th and 19th at 8pm and Sunday May 20th at 4pm. I’ll be dancing in two of the pieces, and in addition to the ensemble work I’m sure there will be at least two solos by professional dancers, and the music is always live, authentic flamenco music. Below is the link to more info and a video trailer for the show:!news

Apr 052012

For several years now, I have been honing my crepe recipe and technique. These aren’t vegan since eggs are central to the consistency and taste of these, but everything else is non-dairy and organic if possible.


  • 4 qt liquid measuring cup and wand blender (Alternatively, just mix everything in a regular blender)
  •  Small ceramic or glass bowl for butter
  •  Silicon basting brush (to grease the pan with butter between crepes)
  •  Crepe pan
  •  Silicone spatula
  •  Dish cloth
  •  Basket for crepes


  • 1 cup organic plain soy milk (seriously, don’t buy non-organic soy milk – it’s crazy GMO’d and full of chemicals)
  • 2 happy eggs (I use Mint Creek Farm eggs I buy at the Dill Pickle Coop in Logan’s Sq)
  • 1 T honey (I use raw honey for extra flavor)
  • ½ t salt
  • t vanilla
  • cup brandy (or any other liquor – I used Captain Morgan’s spiced rum this morning and it came out great)
  • ¾ c whole wheat pastry flour

Step 1

Put the butter in a small ceramic or glass bowl and microwave for about 30 seconds until it is melted.

Step 2

Pour 1 cup of milk into the 4 cup liquid measuring cup (nice how you don’t have to get two things dirty, right?)

Step 3

Add the 2 eggs (I just break them right into the milk, ‘cause I’m reckless like that. For the more cautious, you can crack them into a separate bowl first so that in case they are bad you can toss them without affecting your soy milk.)

Step 4

Blend the milk and eggs together with a wand blender right there in the 4 cup liquid measuring cup. Then add and blend in the honey, salt, vanilla, brandy and melted butter except for 1-2 T that you will use later for greasing the pan. Add the flour last. Now you’ve got your batter ready to go.

Step 5

Now you’ve gotten to the tricky part – frying the crepes. You can use a special crepe pan or a small non-stick frying pan. Heat the pan on medium for a few minutes and use the silicon basting brush to grease the pan with butter. Also turn the oven to 200⁰ F for a couple of minutes then turn it off to get it ready to be the crepe warmer. You can use a plate or basket lined with a dish cloth for keeping the crepes warm in the oven.

Step 6

When the pan is hot, pour a small amound of batter (1/4-1/3 cup?) into the pan and immediately tilt it and rotate it so that the batter covers the the entire flat part of the pan in a thin layer that almost immediately forms little bubbles. When the bubbles start to harden around the edges, peel up the crepe with your fingers and flip it (I can’t do the thing where you flip it just by flicking the pan.) Give it a minute or so on the 2nd side, then peel it and fold it into quarters and toss it into the basket it in the oven. Repeat, repeat, and repeat until you have enough crepes. You can store any extra batter for another day or so in the fridge.

Tip: If the first one gets screwed up because the temperature wasn’t right, don’t get discouraged, just eat it and move on.

Jan 212012

We’re both vegetarian, so this list is biased in favor of places with great veggie options:

Ras Dashen

This may be our favorite restaurant in the world, and it’s just down the street from us in Edgewater. Chef Zenash Beyenne is a magician with spices, and her richly flavored stews transcend the genre. There are many Ethiopian restaurants on this strip of Broadway, but after you go to Ras Dashen, it’s the only one you’ll need. Try the q’tegna appetizer and the dupa wat (spicy pumpkin stew).


Located not far from us in Uptown, this is the best place for brunch in Chicago so expect to wait if you go during peak brunch times. But waiting isn’t so bad in Tweet’s adjacent bar, Big Chicks, with free coffee and a game of Boggle. And when you finally sit down, the enormous, beautifully plated portions of food are worth it. The menu has a lot of options for veg and vegan, and they even have a separate gluten-free menu if you need it. Our favorites are the veggie bisquits and gravy and the chilaquiles. Lots of fresh fruit, coffee cake, and every flavor of Tabasco sauce imaginable are all on hand to enhance your brunch experience.

El Norte

When we are feeling broke but really want to eat out, we go to El Norte, our neighborhood taqueria. The quality is good, it’s open late, and the price is right. My “the usual” is 1 order of beans, 1 order of corn tortillas, 1 order of sliced avocado, and some limes. I make my own tacos and eat dinner for about $3. When we visit our friends who moved from our neighborhood to Skokie, they often ask us to bring them veggie burritos from El Norte.

Ben’s Noodles and Rice

This is our neighborhood Thai place. It does all the standard Thai dishes well (we get the Pad See Eew and the Panang Curry), but what sets it apart is how incredibly friendly and warm the owners are. Even when we haven’t been in for a year, they remember us and ask us how we’ve been. If it’s in season, try their mango sticky rice for dessert.

Chicago Diner

This all veg restaurant has been around for almost 30 years, and they have my favorite sandwich – the radical reuben – and my favorite milk shake (the vegan peanut butter cookie dough, made with temptation soy ice cream.)

Spacca Napoli

Of all the Napoli-style thin crust pizza places that opened in the last several years, this is our favorite. And when I’m feeling cheesed out, I order a pizza with crumbled black truffles and a fried egg. It’s not on the menu, but if they have eggs in the kitchen and you ask nicely they’ll make it for you. The Bianco Nero is another great one, with porcini mushrooms and white truffle oil. Aaron likes the Bufalina. Also, it’s a great place to eat in the summer because they have a nice outdoor patio.


This is another thin-crust style pizza place we like (that also has good outdoor seating in the summer). This one’s specialty is that they are a certified organic restaurant (which we love to support). Plus, I love one of their salads (called the sun salad, I think) that has seaweed in it.

Blind Faith Cafe

This place is north of Chicago in Evanston, but is worth the trek for good veg entrees and more importantly, the best cake ever: their vegan chocolate peanut butter cake. We order a whole cake from them whenever one of us has a birthday.

Mana Food Bar

We only went here once, but it was awesome. Small plates of really interesting veggie food.

Conoce Mi Panamá

Who would have guessed that a storefront Panamanian place would have soy chicken or empanadas with fake ground beef?

El Faro

Another surprise – a taqueria at 31st and Pulaski that has an entire page of the menu devoted to tacos, tortas and platos of traditional Mexican dishes done with fake meat. The best is the fake Al pastor and carne asada.

Addendum on 2/18/12:

Quesadilla – La Reyna del Sur

Aaron and I just had dinner at another place that belongs on this list, now that it is trending toward a vegetarian-latin theme. Quesadilla – La Reyna del Sur on Western a couple blocks south of Fullerton. I don’t think they have a website, but you can get their info off of Happy Cow. Here’s a review of it on second city vegan. The quesadilla with vegan cheese and carne asada soya meat was the best. I am already wanting another one and I’m not even hungry.


Jan 212012

I found the perfect Halloween costume.  “This guy? White face and shirt?”  No.  Watch this 30 second clip from the opera Sarah and I saw last night.

Jan 152012

In an earlier post I mentioned my yogurt making, but in case you are trying it yourself and want some tips on technique, here’s my step-by-step approach:


  •  Yogurt maker (mine is a Eurocuisine that holds 7 little glass jars) 
  • 2 qt double boiler sauce pan
  • Candy thermometer (mine is from Sur la table and has a range of 100-400° F)
  • Wire whisk
  • 4 qt sauce pan, big enough for you to set your 2 qt sauce pan down inside of it
  • Ladle and wide mouth funnel (I have a stainless steel set that came with a canning kit)


  • 1 qt whole milk
  • 1 packet of frieze dried yogurt starter (such as Yogourmet)

Step 1

Fill the bottom of the double boiler with 2-3 inches of water, pour the milk into the top of the double boiler, and clip the thermometer to the edge of the pan to keep an eye on the temp. Use the wire whisk to stir the milk occasionally to avoid it forming a skin. (If it does, just skim it off with the whisk and throw it away.) Bring the milk to 175º F for a couple of minutes. (The reason for this is to kill off any unwanted bacteria so the yogurt will be the only bacteria growing in your milk. If you have a very trusted milk source, I’m told you can skip this step, but I never do.)

Double boiler with milk and thermometer 

Step 2

While your milk is heating, prep your 4 quart sauce pan by filling it about half full of cold water. This will be your bain-marie for quickly cooling the milk down to 120º F.

Step 3

Take the top of your double boiler (with the milk) out of the bottom part. Pour out the boiling water. Transfer the thermometer to the side of the now-empty bottom part. Pour the milk into this and place it inside the 4 qt sauce pan bain-marie. (The reason I transfer the milk is that the top part of my double boiler is ceramic and takes a long time to cool. The bottom is stainless steel and cools quickly.) Watch the thermometer closely and take the pan with the milk out of the bain-marie when it gets to 120º F. This only takes 4-5 minutes, so don’t go start some other project.

Milk in the bain-marie

Step 4

While your milk is cooling in its bain-marie, prep your little glass jars so they are arranged open and ready on the counter. If you have my same yogurt maker, you can also use this time to prep the lids with the date (this is utterly optional) and set them in the top of the plastic lid of the yogurt maker (see photo below). Also, get out the ladle, wide mouth funnel, and packet of frieze-dried yogurt starter.

Step 5

Dip up a half-ladle of milk and pour in the yogurt starter powder. Use the whisk to mix it around in the ladle before pouring it back into the pan of milk. Now use the whisk to blend it thoroughly in the pan. Place your wide mouth funnel on top of your first little jar. Dip up an almost full ladle of milk and pour it into the jar through the funnel. Repeat to fill 6 of the jars. For the 7th, you just have to pick up the pan and pour the remaining milk into your funnel. The jars won’t be quite full since you only used a quart of milk (they are meant to hold 7 oz each, but you’ll only have a little under 5 oz per jar. If you want to fill them to the brim, you have to buy a 1/2 gallon of milk and use a little more than half of it, which then goes bad by the next time you make yogurt if like me you don’t use milk for anything else.)

Filling the jars

Step 6

Almost there! Just place your jars on the base of your yogurt maker and cover with the big clear plastic lid. Plug it in and set the time for as long as possible. I like to let it go 10-12 hours, but it will be fully yogurted after 8. When it finishes, you will need to open it up, put lids on your jars, and place them in the fridge. Let them set for at least 3 hours, then enjoy!

Yogur en marcha!

Jan 152012

The somethingth anniversary of the inspiration and expression of my first original cocktail recipe graced this past December wheneverd. We toasted with and to it and our healths at our humble New Years Eve gathering to calls of “h-euch” and “if I sip it in careful quantities, it’s not quite as bad as the ingredients suggest it would be.” The former and similar I expected; the latter and lauds alike: my triumph!

Je présente …

The Christmas Dick

  • 2 parts Jägermeister
  • 1 part Peppermint Schnapps

Inspiration, inspiration! Among blessings we bathed in that night were extemporaneous recipes and resolutions to their realizations before the next boring of another martini.

Kid Natas
  • 2 parts Southern Comfort
  • 1 part Peach Schnapps

Rather than lie, I invite the internet to remind us of the ingredients for recipes no less memorable proposed, ipso obvios facto, less memorably by other dear patrons of the party.

The Christmas Dick with Wine or something, and warm?
  • yes
A Third Regional Variation featuring a relatively potent flavored liquor and a fruit Schnapps clad in a pithy name
  • 2 parts Harvey…? no
  • 1 part la-di-da Schnapps
Jan 132012

If any of you heard about the Aaron shot to death in our alley, don’t worry. It was a different Aaron.

Jan 022012

A last minute dinner party turned out to be the perfect way to begin the new year. Just before midnight we headed out to Hollywood beach to celebrate with distant fireworks displays, mini international flags, and eating as many lucky grapes as possible in the first minute of 2012. 

Dec 312011

I assume I was born with Wolff-Parkison White syndrome.  Mostly, that meant I’d have episodes about once a year that set my heart rate suddenly up to way above any heart rate I could get wrestling, lifting weights or anything else a high school kid does to get his heart rate up (jumping out of moving cars, skateboarding down hills into traffic…). If I didn’t get my heart rate down by holding my neck in a special way, I had heard that I could pass out. In high school, I found out that about 1% of people who have my version of WPW die suddenly from it. I didn’t sweat it much but each episode freaked me out a little.

This year, I talked to another cardiologist who told me that I had to do something about it. “If you were a pilot, I’d ground you. If you were in the NFL, I’d bench you.” I asked him a bunch of questions which he didn’t like but entertained. At one point, he told me I was getting too hung up on the terminology, but he interrupted my next question to correct my terminology. “It’s not heart surgery. It’s a procedure.”

Long story short, I went with Dr. Wes Fisher for the crotch surgery on my heart option to permanently fix my WPW. Here’s a BORING video of me talking about it five minutes after it happened.

Dec 312011

Big Kessler Hanukkah party was fun again this year.  Sammy held court for about 20 minutes with the family story.  Great stuff!  I recorded most of it on an iPhone and cleaned up the audio with the free program Audacity.

Sammy tells the family story

This reminded me about some interviews Jesse and Howard (is that right?) did with Selma and David Gans.  I tried out some of my new software on trying to clean up those recordings some. Here are links to those interviews (processed with Adobe Audition CS5.5, processed with Audacity, unprocessed — I recommend the Audition processed versions but I haven’t listened to them each all the way through).

Same interviews – processed with Audition

Selma part 1 – Audition
Selma part 2 – Audition
David part 1 – Audition
David part 2 – Audition

Same interviews – processed with Audacity

Selma part 1 – Audacity
Selma part 2 – Audacity
David part 1 – Audacity
David part 2 – Audacity

Same interviews – unprocessed

Selma part 1 – Unprocessed
Selma part 2 – Unprocessed
David part 1 – Unprocessed
David part 2 – Unprocessed

The astute among you may have noticed these files are hosted on Don’t worry, it’s not a pot of viruses. It’s a server in my parents’ basement.

Dec 312011

This recipe for “Deep December Ragout of Seitan, Shiitakes and Winter Vegetables” has been posted a lot on various sites, and the source is listed as: CHEF DU JOUR CRESCENT DRAGONWAGON SHOW #DJ9339. Here’s a link to it. I love it because it is really flavorful and hearty. All I do differently than the original recipe is I use my own homemade seitan instead of store-bought. And if you don’t have Umeboshi vinegar around you can sub red wine vinegar.

I’ve made it a few times  –  most recently for New Years’ Eve 2012. The leftovers are really good, since the flavors seem to deepen and melow over time.

Dec 312011

I can’t claim to be a full on urban homesteader, but I do have a breakfast routine that is almost all local ingredients, low on packaging, and homemade.

Every week I buy a quart of organic whole milk from the Dill Pickle Co-op in Logan Square. I like that it is in a glass jar that actually gets reused when you bring it back for your deposit! I make yogurt with my Eurocuisine yogurt maker and packets of yogurt starter from Yo-gourmet. The deal with making yogurt is that it takes a few times to figure out the process, but once you get it down, it really only takes about 30 min in the kitchen, and then just remembering to put the yogurt in the fridge when it finishes 8-10 hours later. (The longer you leave it, the tangy-er it gets. I love a 12 hour yogurt.) And then you have fresh yogurt from organic, local milk and no plastic waste!

Every two weeks or so, I make my own granola using a recipe that I got through my friend Liz, who adapted it from a Martha Stewart recipe. Check it out on Liz’s blog! For this recipe, I use organic oats from the bulk bin at Dill Pickle. The main building blocks are the oats, wheat germ (adds crunchiness), and the wet ingredients. For the fruit and nuts you can use whatever you have laying around. I’ve put raisins instead of cherries and various combos of pecans, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds instead of almonds. I love the coconut shreds, but it comes out fine without them too.

For breakfast every day I pour one little jar of my yogurt into a bowl and top with about a 1/4 cup of granola. If I have bananas around, I slice half a banana on as well. Ok, that’s not local. But you gotta get your potassium.


Dec 312011

I made this soup for Thanksgiving this year. It is originally a vegan recipe I found on a couple of sites (click here for one of them). I made a few small adjustments (such as less stock in the beginning and buttermilk at the end) so I’ll re-post the recipe here.


  • 2 1/2 qts vegetable stock (10 C)
  • 4 lbs butternut squash (2 squashes should be about right, I don’t think it has to be exact)
  • 2 C carrots (diced – doesn’t have to be perfect – you’ll puree it later)
  • 2 C celery (diced)
  • 1 C onion (diced)
  • 1/2 C sherry (dry) (I accidentally used sherry vinegar the first time I made this – I thought it was good but it was pretty tangy. You’re better off with actual sherry or white wine)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 t salt (use less if your stock is salted)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pinch white pepper (or more – pepper is yummy!)
  • 1/2 t nutmeg (freshly ground)
  • 1 T parsley (finely chopped)
  • 1/2 t paprika


Cut butternut squash in half lenghtwise and remove seeds, brush with olive oil.
Place squash cutside down on a parchment lined sheet pan and roast in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes or until squash is soft to the touch, and the skin begins to pull away from the flesh. (this can take up to an hour if the squash is thick.)
Remove from oven and let cool.
Spoon roasted squash out of the skin and pass it through a ricer or food mill to remove any of the stringy fibers. I used a food mill because I have one and wanted to get more mileage out of it, but I think you could skip this step. You will blend everything later.
Heat olive oil in a large stockpot and swet the carrots, celery and onions, until the onions and carrots just start to caramelize.
Deglaze the pot with sherry.
Add the vegetable stock, salt, pepper, nutmeg and bay leaf and bring to a boil.
Add the squash, reduce to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes.
Remove the bay leaf, and puree the soup in the pot with an immersion blender until it reaches a smooth, creamy consistency.
Add 2 cups buttermilk (or less if you don’t have 2 cups. Not an exact science.)
Taste, and add salt and pepper if needed.
Garnish with chopped parsley and paprika and serve.

Dec 312011

Of all the fake meat recipes I’ve used, this one has the most flavor and best texture. It better, since it has a ton of spices and oil in it. It’s great for sandwich meat. The only thing I do differently is that I usually double it and just make an extra large roast so there are lots of leftovers to freeze. I also add some garlic powder in addition to the onion powder.

Dec 302011

Every once in a while at an Indian restaurant you’ll see a dish called “Tandoori Vegetable” or “Tandoori Phool” (Phool = Cauliflower). If you do, order it. Especially if you’re at India House in Oakbrook, where they make an especially yummy version. I always assumed that I couldn’t make it without a Tandoor oven. It turns out that it can be made at home.

Our version is adapted from’s recipe.


  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1 big or two small stalks broccoli
  • Fresh lemon juice
    (at least 4-5 lemons’ worth, the more the better!)
  • 1 lemon for garnish
  • 2 T Chaat Masala
    (buy this at an Indian market, I like one called “Chunky Chaat Masala” from Patel Bros. on Devon in Chicago)
  • 1 C Gram Flour
    (aka chickpea/garbanzo flour, called “Besan” at the Indian market)
  • 2 T nutritional yeast (optional)
  • 1 T chili powder
    (I don’t think it matters what kind, cayenne should be fine)
  • 1 C plus 3 T water
  • pinch of salt
  • A lot of vegetable oil for frying
    (canola or other oil that says “refined for high heat”)


Break the cauliflower and broccoli into florets 2-3″ in diameter. Slice each floret in half. Mix the fresh lemon juice with the chaat masala. Put the cauliflower and broccoli florets in a gallon-sized ziplock bag and pour the lemon juice mix in over them. Marinate for at least 30 minutes, or up to a few days in the fridge.

Mix the gram flour, nutritional yeast (if you have it, no worries if you don’t), chili powder and salt in a bowl with a fork. Add the water and mix with the fork until all the flour clumps are broken up. You should have a sticky batter that will coat and stick to the cauliflower and broccoli florets.

Heat about 2 inches of oil in a deep frying pan or big sauce pan.

Dip the cauliflower florets into the batter, then drop into the oil (try to lay them on the flat side so they get submerged) and fry for about 1 min in the oil. You can put at least 6 florets in at a time, depending on the size of your pan. By the time you get to the broccoli, the batter may have gotten a little diluted from the marinade. Don’t worry, the broccoli does ok with a thinner batter.

As you fish out the fried florets with a slotted spoon, place them into a casserole dish.

Once they are all fried, bake for 10-15 minutes at 275° F.

Garnish with lemon wedges and serve.

Fun additions

Prep the casserole dish with bed of cooked white basmati rice, pour the remaining marinade over it, then arrange the fried florets on top of the rice and bake.

Tomato wedges and onion wedges can also be dipped in the batter, fried, and added to the casserole dish. They won’t hold the batter that well and it will get a little messy, but still very yummy.

Jul 042011

It took me 3 years to win my own bocce tournament. Congratulations, Parry and me!

Clay’s partner Karina had to bail on him minutes before the final, so he flew solo.

Second year running, second place… runner-up. You know, I started my training eleven months ago. I’ll start my training tomorrow, and, I think that extra month will help.

– Dogg

Aug 152010

We had a great time on our honeymoon. We went to Curacao, Bonaire and Aruba.  Here we are relaxing on Eagle Beach in Aruba.

Aug 102010

Now that we’re married, we’re going to start looking into officially changing our names to Surrain.

Aaron Joseph Lipke Surrain
Sarah Huckabay Surrain

The wedding was the best day of our lives, but our honeymoon had a less-than-auspicious start.  Half way home from Milwaukee, acute abdominal pain prompted a change of plans.  Sarah took an ambulance to Lake Forest Hospital, where we spent the next 4 hours.  Lemon laws don’t apply to wives, so I was pretty nervous that I’d have no redress if my marriage only lasted a day.  With those fears allayed, we turned to fretting about our honeymoon.  An ultrasound saved the day and set us on our way home with just a little abating residual pain and 6 hours to pack and catch a plane.  We rushed, then waited, missed flights, rushed some more, waited some more, jogged a mile along the future path of Miami Airport’s monorail, missed another flight, holed up in Miami (in style, thanks to Dan and Gretchen!), waited for the plane, waited for the rain and finally took off a day late but no worse for the wear.

In the midst of congratulating ourselves for keeping such high spirits throughout our miniature travails, we gazed out the window of our plane to catch the rather dramatic moment of our plane leaving the gray below as it ascended into the clear be-puffy-clouded sky above the rain.  And that’s what our name means.  After months of mostly entertaining ourselves with would-be new surnames, Surrain came to me from the thought of being above (the prefix sur-) the rain.  We mulled it over during our honeymoon and, having found it satisfying aesthetically and handy as a mantra, name-like and unblemished by any corporate trademark claims, we’re going for it.

Aug 072010

We posted pictures on Flickr and Shutterfly. The flickr pics are smaller and for easier web viewing. We uploaded larger versions to shutterfly in case you want to order prints. If you’re really interested in ordering prints and want to see more pictures that feature you or specific moments, let us know and we’ll happily post more to shutterfly. Here are links to both:

Flickr from our old wedding site
Flickr from Flickr

Our Old Wedding Site