Surrain Family Blág

By every meaningful measure, the internet is now the same.

Introducing the Surrain Pickleball Scoring System (SPSS)

I played Pickleball for the first time two days ago and thought the scoring system was aesthetically clumsy. I propose the following.

The Surrain Pickleball Scoring System

Only in doubles on the second server’s serve, say, “the,” then…

Once both sides have at least nine points, stop accumulating points and…

  • if tied: say “deuce”
  • if winning: say “sun”
  • if losing: say “moon”


  • Find a word from the following table by choosing the row that matches the higher score and the column that matches the lower score.
  • Say “back” if you’re losing.
table of words

Winning? Next is down. Losing? Next is right, with “back.”


0-0-2“the valentine’s”
5-2-2“the apple”
2-5-2“the apple back”
10-9-2“the sun”

The Short Version

["the" if 2nd server]
if both players have 9
  tied: "deuce"
  winning: "sun"
  losing: "moon"  
  [word from table] ["back" if losing]

Bonus for Winners!

Use the losing player’s score to determine how to refer to the game. For example, if you shut out your opponent, congratulations on a diamond game.

9 or morecosmic

An All-Scores Version of the Words Table

Note that when you’re winning, the class of word stays the same but the first letter of the word is different. During a comeback, the class of word changes but the first letter of the word is the same until you’re tied again.

To read this table, choose the row that matches your score and the column that matches your opponent’s score.

0valentinesemerald backivory backruby backopal backamber backtopaz backcrystal backpearl backbloodstone backsapphire back
1emeraldflowersiris backrose backorchid backazalea backtulip backclover backpansy backbluebell backsnapdragon back
2ivoryirisfruitrasperry backorange backapple backtangerine backcherry backpeach backbanana backstrawberry back
3rubyroseraspberrytreesoak backaspen backteak backcedar backpine backbirch backsequoia back
4opalorchidorangeoakpredatorsalligator backtiger backcobra backpirhana backbear backshark back
5amberazaleaappleaspenalligatorspicesthyme backcumin backpepper backbasil backsaffron back
6topaztuliptangerineteaktigerthymelinenscotton backpolyester backbamboo backsatin back
7crystalclovercherrycedarcobracumincottondancepolka backballet backsalsa back
8pearlpansypeachpinepirhanapepperpolyesterpolkametalbronze backsilver back
10sapphiresnapdragostrawberrysequoiasharksaffronsatinsalsasilversun(impossible score)
table of words
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Ronin of Catan

R.I.P. Klaus Teuber

We’re not big on The Robber in Settlers of Catan for a few reasons, so we tried a few different alternative rules and think we’ve settled on some we like.

The Ronin still blocks the tile they’re on from producing normally.

So you rolled a seven…

  • Don’t steal.
  • As usual, discard if applicable.
  • Move the Ronin a number of tiles equal to the lower of the dice rolled without doubling back or ending on their starting tile.
  • Take cards from the supply equal in number to the lower of the dice rolled limited in kind and proportion to the kind normally produced by the tiles traversed.

For example, if you roll a five and a two, you must move the Ronin two tiles. If the Ronin is on a forest tile, and you move it to another forest tile with one hill tile between them, you can take either two wood or a wood and a brick from the supply, but not two brick because only one hill was traversed by the Ronin.

So you played a knight…

  • Don’t steal.
  • Move the Ronin exactly one tile.
  • Take from the supply one card of the kind normally produced by the either the starting or ending tile of the Ronin’s path.

Other adjustments

We’ve only been testing this with two players, but we’re enjoying it when we play to thirteen instead of ten.

Costa Rica Showed Us Some Birds

Thanks, Agniel. You’re an amazing guide!

The four images above link to their full-sized versions.

Marble Cake

My mom makes these as cupcakes now to get more crust out of the deal. For parties—bundt! I make this 1/3-scale recipe in the brownie pan Morgan gave me because I’m bundt broke.

3 T vegan butter, room temp (Melt, Miyoko, or Earth Balance sticks)
1 dollop of vegan butter for greasing
1 t flax seed
1 T (scant) water
1 t vanilla
⅓ C sugar (not too fine and white—a little grit and soul goes a long way)
⅓ C brown sugar (not too dark or light)
½ C soy milk (Trader Joe’s Soy Beverage or Westsoy Organic Unsweetened Plain)
⅔ C all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
¼ t salt
1 square unsweetened chocolate
⅛ t baking soda

Heat someone’s oven to 350º. Blend the flax seed in a spice/coffee blender and drown it in the water. In a comfortably-medium bowl, masticate the butter, sugar. Once the flax seed and water has pussed, mix it, the vanilla, and the Just Egg into the butter and sugar. In a more-medium bowl, obliviate the salt and powder into the flour. Thrice mix a third of the dry ingredients and a third of the milk into the wet ingredients. In the now-empty more-medium bowl (or, fancy lad, in a double boiler) melt the chocolate then feed it the soda. Sublimate just shy of half of the batter into the chocolate. Marble by gently considering stirring the staid and chocolate batters, perhaps while consolidating them into one of their bowls, perhaps right into the butter-greased half-sheet-of-parchment-paper-lined brownie pan.

Bake for 55 minutes (doubling seems to need 65). Cool. Powder? Cut. Eat.


Remembering the time at the 2007 Chicago South Side St. Patrick’s Day parade when I saw this…

…and thought, let’s go take family-portrait style pictures with those guys.

They were as liquid in their bearing up close as they were from afar and inside.

Vegan Brownies

Eat food, mostly brown, not too many.

It’s might be me, but the vegan brownie recipes I’ve tried have two flaws. They aim to be gooey but just seem under-cooked. They harden when they cool.

The heavy dose of baking powder in this recipe seems to keep the butter from bricking. In my garbage kitchen, these ride the wave between cakey and gooey and stay yummy (won’t break teeth) after being in the fridge for a day.

1/4 C soy milk (Trader Joe’s Soy Beverage or Westsoy Organic Unsweetened Plain)
1 T vinegar
1/4 C (1/2 stick) vegan butter (I used organic Earth Balance)
1/2 C sugar
1 t vanilla
1/3 C dutch processed cocoa powder (Equal Exchange)
2/3 C all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1/4 t salt

Heat a small oven to 350º. Inseminate the soy milk with the vinegar and let it sit a mo. Garble up the rest of the wet (buttah, sugah, vanilla). Whip up the dry in its bowl then barely combine the wet and the dry. By barely, I don’t mean like how Chicago barely desegregated. I mean so you stop seeing clumps of dust but still see streaks. More like the SNL cast. Plop the lot into a small brownie pan lined with a vegan-butter greased sheet of parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes (unless your oven ain’t bust like mine). Cool just a few then enjoy with a glass of Westsoy Organic Unsweetened Plain soy milk.

These two recipes informed:

Simple Vegan Brownies | Minimalist Baker Recipes
Vegan Skillet Cornbread | The Spruce Eats

21-4-14 – reduced sugar from 2/3 C; increased vinegar to 1 T;

Vegan Oatmeal Cookies

Something about quick oats specifically makes them cousiny to Mexican wedding cookies. I dare you.

1 t ground flax seed
1 T water
1/4 C vegan butter SOFTENED
1/4 C sugar
1/8 C brown sugar
1 t vanilla
1 t cinnamon
1/3 C flour
2/3 C quick oats
1/4 t salt
1/8 t baking soda
1/3 C chopped toasted pecans
1/3 C raisins (maybe?)
1 lemon’s or a half-orange’s zest (possibly?)

  1. make the fake egg: let water and ground flax sit together for a few minutes and turn into an egg with magics
  2. zest the citrus
  3. beat butter, sugars, vanilla, cinnamon; and the zest if you’re feeling it
  4. add fake egg
  5. combine dry ingredients: flour, oats, salt, baking soda, pecans; and the raisins if you lean that way
  6. combine everything
  7. bake teaspoon drops of dough at 350º for 16-ish minutes—watch for liminal lightbrowningness.

How to zinc the mule’s ass

From what I’m reading, claims that zinc is good for the immune system are holding up under empirical scrutiny, but it’s expensive in pill and liquid supplements and when bundled in a multivitamin its absorption can be thwarted by citric acid. We found you can get it in a powder for super cheap, but it’s hard to eat that way. It sinks quickly to, and then sticks to, the bottom of a glass of water—but we figured it out! sprinkle it onto your almond yogurt breakfast! I tried it today and was reborn, literally. 🐣 Bring it on, coronavirus. The Surrains are ready for you.

Introducing the Surrain Log Date Format (SLDF)

Surrain Log Date Format is a short, easily human readable, sort-friendly character date format.

  • 2-digit year
  • 1-digit month, hex (9 is September, a is October…)
  • 1 hyphen
  • 2-digit day

November 5, 2019:
19b-05 - toaster not authenticated - 403

Boo! macOS sorts 19a above 199.

macOS alternate:
19-b-05 - toaster doesn't sort - 501

Introducing the Surrain Prize Structure (SPS)

Winner proposes a distribution of all prizes. If either first or second runner-up assents, distribute the prizes; otherwise, first runner-up conterproposes a distribution of all prizes. If either winner or second runner-up assents, distribute the prizes according to the counterproposal; otherwise, distribute the prizes according to the winner’s original proposal.


What’s the best thing about baked goods? Eating twenty of them? Nope. YES. Pant. No. It’s fun to witch up the brew, good stink the house a’yum, and have a warm gooey burst of flavor and sugargrit mouthfeel. Alas, fifty cold hard cookies later and it’s sadness all the way down.

Make one “tablespooner” at a time and be saved with my nifty new recipe:

  • T organic softened vegan butter (I’ve been enjoying Melt)
  • T organic vegan raw sugar
  • T organic light brown sugar
  • T organic raw cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
  • T organic whole wheat flour
  • 2 T organic unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 t organic vanilla extract
  • 1/8 t organic peppermint flavor
  • pinch salt

Heat a small oven to 350º. Humiliate everything but the flours before gently under-folding those in. Do not overmix the flours. Just barely combine the flours with the rest of the muck. Make flat on a silpatted baking sheet a centimeter tall Pangea smear of the above. Bake for 15. There will be baked, but still gooey. Cool just a few then enjoy with a glass of Westsoy Organic Unsweetened Plain soy milk.

They was delicious!

Introducing the Surrain Going Places System (SGPS)

When giving directions, say only the names of the streets in the order they’ll be encountered with two exceptions: For left turns prefix the name of the street with “l'” the way the French use a definite article before words that start with a vowel. For anything more complex than a simple right or left turn, just explain it. For example, walking directions to my house from Porter Square: Head Northeast on White, l’Elm for just a sec, Hancock, l’Charnwood, Willow, l’Hawthorne.

Introducing the Surrain Doing Decimal System (SDDS)

When someone asks how you’re doing, answer with two numbers. The first reports your big-picture wellness and privilege; the second, your mood. Zero is the worst; Nine, the best. If you’ve lived the world’s picture of a charmed life and just won the big game, you might answer 9.9 pronounced “nine point nine.” Car towed? 9.3. Close friend dies? 8.0. Doctor says you’re next? 4.0, but tells you a good joke, 4.6—you’ve had a good run.

On Safari Above the Tree Line

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 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.

Introducing the Surrain Augmented Thumbs Scale (SATS)

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.

The 4th Annual La Copa Del Budino

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!

Sarah’s Seitan Sausage

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.

Sarah’s Flamenco Show in May 2012

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

Our Favorite Chicago Restaurants

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.


Finer Points of Yogurting

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!

Holiday Cocktail Grunts into Tradition

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

New Year’s on the Beach

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. 

Crotch Surgery on My Heart

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.

Family Stories

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.

Hearty Vegan Winter Stew

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.

DIY Yogurt and Granola breakfast

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.


Butternut Squash Soup

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.


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.

The 3rd Annual La Copa Del Budino

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

Our New Names

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.

The Plunge

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