Category Archives: Food and Drink

I think it’s time for a reboot check-in

I had decided that I wasn’t going to do these after a year, but since I’m still committed to the changes I made a little over a year ago, and I need to post something today, to keep the chain unbroken, I’m going to check in and see how I’m doing. I haven’t actually thought about these things until now, so when I give myself a grade today, it’ll be an honest grade, based on where I am right now.

If this is your first time hearing about the reboot, here’s what you need to know:

Just about one year ago, I took an honest look at myself and I didn’t like what I saw. I needed to reset a lot of habits, make some significant changes to the way I approached just about everything in my life, and keep working at it, even when it was hard.

I can’t even believe that it’s already been a year, and that it’s only been a year, because time feels like that when you’re 44, I guess.

Here are the things I decided to address:

  • Drink less beer.
  • Read more (and Reddit does not count as reading).
  • Write more.
  • Watch more movies.
  • Get better sleep.
  • Eat better food.
  • Exercise more.

Every month, I wrote a post that looked into each of those things I decided to change, and examined how I was doing with them. That was a helpful part of the exercise, because it made me look at myself and my choices honestly and fearlessly. At times, it motivated me to work harder, and at other times it encouraged me by making me realize that I was doing better than I thought.

This time around, since I haven’t done a public check-in since October, I’m going to give myself two grades on each point. One will be the overall since last time, and one will be for January. Here we go.

Continue reading… →

A Recipe for Reasonably Good Beef Stew

Months ago, I got it into my head that I should make stew in the slow cooker. Before we go any further, I should tell you that I am, generally speaking, not a big fan of slow cooker recipes or things they make. So I went online, and looked at a bunch of recipes for beef stew, picked out one, and made it. It was pretty good, but not great.

Let’s skip ahead to a few days after Thanksgiving. I was with a couple of my friends, and we were talking about the joy and perfection of leftovers. My friend Riley told me that she likes to take pretty much all of the leftovers, from the turkey to the stuffing to the potatoes to the gravy, and dump it all into a slow cooker with some chicken stock to make a stew. Remember how I wasn’t all that into slow cooker things like 100 words ago? I changed my mind.

I thought about what she said, and then I thought about all the different recipes I’d looked at several weeks earlier. I realized that there were a few basic things that made stew … uh, stew, and that there’s no need to be precise when making it. You could just put all your Thanksgiving leftovers into a slow cooker, for instance, and turn them into a stew that’s perfect for eating with some crusty bread.

And that’s how I decided to take from my memory all the things I liked about the stew recipes I read back in like September, to make my own slow cooker stew a few nights ago. Here’s my basic recipe:

Reasonably Good Beef Stew

Before we get our ingredients together, let’s get something clear: this isn’t precise. This is a bunch of ideas and guidelines, because we’re going to imagine that we’re in the Long Long Ago, putting together all the stuff that we have on hand so that we can feed ourselves and the giant family we have because it’s the Long Long Ago and basically we make children for entertainment.

Walk outside and make sure that your summoning circle is clear of debris, especially pointy sticks. Double check to ensure that your hemp rope was braided beneath the light of a full moon, and has seven knots in it. Spit on the doorframe as you walk back into the house, and clap twice when the door closes and latches.

Then go to the store and get:

  • 2 pounds of steak that’s cut up into cubes. Your local store probably sells it as BEEF FOR STEW OR WHATEVER. Don’t waste super good steak on this, because that stuff is better on the grill.
  • 2 parsnips.
  • 3 carrots
  • 2 boring old regular potatoes or like four medium red potatoes. You may be tempted to use both kinds. That’s fine, but just know that it’s easy to overdo it with starchy vegetables.
  • About a half pound of crimini mushrooms. Don’t use stupid button mushrooms because they’re lame and boring and did I mention that they’re stupid? Crimini mushrooms are more complex in flavor, and give lots of opportunities for you to hike your pants up way too high and make dad jokes that use the word “Criminey!”
  • Three cloves of garlic.
  • One medium onion. You can use white or yellow. Don’t use red because they don’t soften up the right way and they’re kinda bossy in the cooker, overwhelming all the other flavors.
  • 2-3 tablespoons of tomato paste.
  • 1 cup of red wine. You can use cooking wine if you want, but I prefer to use drinking wine, even though I don’t drink it. But if you do, hey! Free wine to drink while you’re making dinner! If you wanted to substitute Guinness for the wine, you can do that, as well, and make this as more of a Guinness stew.
  • 1 tablespoon paprika.
  • 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • All the flour in the world (you’re only going to use like 1/3 cup and a little more to coat the beef, but you’ll be thankful you stocked up on flour after President Tiny Hands starts a nuclear war).
  • 3 stalks of celery. Some people call these things “Celery Ribs” which is so fucking pretentious I want to cut them into celery spears and stab them in their smarty pants faces.
  • At least 32 ounces of beef stock. You will probably want a little more, but it’s not necessary. Maybe you can barter with a neighbor, using some of your excess flour.

Welcome back from the store! Take a quick look at your summoning circle and light the candles. Wrap the rope around a stump and tie one end to piece of driftwood that was collected from the east shore of a lake during the solstice.

Okay! Let’s get ready to cook. You can add a little salt and pepper to these steps whenever you feel like it. I try not to use too much salt because I don’t like it and it doesn’t like me.

First, peel the onion, and chop it up into little onion hunks. Peel and mince the garlic. Then, wash all the other vegetables and cut them up however you want. Some folks like to slice their potatoes, others prefer to quarter them and then half the quarters. I realize I could have said “cut the potatoes into eighths”, but if I did that I would expect to be stabbed with a celery spear. You can keep the stems on the mushrooms if you want, but I prefer to take them off, mostly because it’s fun to pop the caps off the mushrooms and put them on the carrots like little hats. Try it! You can make the carrots do a play for you before you murder them and eat them. Just like mom did!

Put a little olive oil (like a tablespoon or so) into a nonstick skillet, and heat it up. When it’s warm, add about half the onion and all the garlic. Cook it, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent and the garlic is fragrant. If you want to get all advanced, you can get an extra teaspoon of paprika and dump it in when you add the onions.

While the onions are doing their thing, put the beef into a bowl and dump just enough flour into it so that you can toss them around, and coat them with it. Sprinkle the tablespoon of paprika over them and keep tossing until they are pretty well coated with the flour and paprika. You may have to add a little flour, don’t worry about it.

Once the beef is all covered, and the onions are ready, add the beef to the pan, taking care not to dump any of the excess flour in with it. Stir it all around a little bit, and then forget about it for a couple of minutes while it cooks. Oh, I forgot to mention that you’re using like a medium-high heat. What you’re going for is to brown the meat without cooking it all the way through, so use whatever heat you think is appropriate for that.

After like four minutes, mix it all up again, and try to get the beef cubes to turn over. You can do this by saying, “Roll over, beef!” or you can use tongs to turn it, or a spatula, or a wooden spoon. Do not use a crazy straw because it will melt, and do not use telekinesis because you will splash oil all over the damn place.

After another four or so minutes, dump all of that stuff out of the pan and into your slow cooker. Put the lid on to keep it warm.

Now you’re going to warm up a little bit more olive oil in the pan. When it’s warm, take your tomato paste, starting with two tablespoons, and gently, carefully, put it into the pan. Don’t scoop it out of the tomato paste thingy with a spoon and just drop it in like I did, because it’ll splash the oil all over your Sex Pistols T-shirt and stain it which is not as punk rock now as you thought it was when you were a teenager. You can still be punk rock and have a clean shirt, for crying out loud.

I like to use a wooden spoon for this, but you don’t have to. Use something to stir it around and really spread it out until it goes from bright red to like a brick red color. Now pour in the wine, and like a half cup of beef broth. Stir this all together, and get ready for some magic to happen. Very slowly and gently start easing in a little bit of flour at a time, whisking it into the mixture. You’re making a gravy right now, and if you dump all the flour in at once, it’s going to make it all lumpy and they’re all gonna laugh at you. Careful that you don’t let the mixture burn.

After you’ve mixed it all together and whisked away the lumps, it should be smooth and look like gravy why not. When it does, turn off the heat and set it aside.

Take the potatoes and put them in a single layer over the meat that’s in your slow cooker. Then do the same thing with the carrots, and then dump all the other vegetables in. Now take the gravy and pour it over the top of everything.

Have a brief moment of panic because there isn’t nearly enough liquid in there to make it a stew, and then remember that you have that 32 ounces of beef stock that you used the flour to barter for. Pour it all into the slow cooker. If it covers or almost covers the stuff inside, you’re done. If it doesn’t, you can either add a little bit of water or more broth until it does.

How long this cooks is up to you. You can cook it on high heat for at least 4 hours, or you can cook it on a lower heat for up to 12 hours. The important thing is that the beef cooks and any evil bacteria who are living in there with plans to make you shit yourself to death are killed before they get a chance to do their sinful business.

I like to serve this with some hunks of fresh bread that I baked that day, and I like to garnish it with a little bit of chopped parsley. You can do whatever you want, though, including dropping some sour cream in there, maybe some plain yogurt, a little bit of Tabasco or Worcestershire sauce, or even more salt and pepper. The important thing is that you don’t worry too much about precision, and you don’t rush it. Think of it as making out for the first time but just a little more awkward and a lot less messy.

Enjoy your stew, and don’t forget to take a bowl out to your summoning circle to feed the demon. Make sure you feed it no less than five spoonfuls before the first rising of the new moon before you set it free. If you have any leftovers, they can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days, because this stuff reheats really well.






Recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies with Coconut Oil and Cacao Nibs

I don’t have any vices (coffee is a fundamental building block of life, and I will cut you I swear to god), and I’ve never had a sweet tooth. But since I did the life reboot and cut literally everything that was even close to being a vice out of my life, I’ve slowly and steadily developed these weird sugar cravings. I’m sure there are medical and psychological reasons, but that’s not what this is about.

This is about how I made these amazing cookies to satisfy both my desire to make a thing and have something sweet to shove into my face after dinner last night. I cobbled this recipe together from different bits from all over the Internets, didn’t take notes because I didn’t plan to write this post, and am doing this from memory.

Chocolate Chip Cookies With Coconut Oil and Cacao Nibs by Wil

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Coconut Oil and Cocoa Nibs

Coconut oil is healthier than regular vegetable oil, and it gives a delicate sweetness to the foods you make with it. It may be overwhelmed by the other sweeteners in these cookies, but I prefer it to butter. Cacao nibs give this really nice extra crunch and bitter chocolate flavor (because they’re unsweetened) that balances out the sweetness in the rest of the cookies.

This makes about 12 cookies. If you need more, do the math. I believe in you.

I really want to do this all by weight, because that’s how I do my bread baking and coffee roasting/brewing, but I think it would be showing off and making things complicated when they don’t have to be, so I’m going to use standard measurements.

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup coconut oil
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon(ish) of salt
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup cocoa nibs

In a perfect world, we’d throw all this stuff into a bowl, say, “Boy am I glad Donald Trump isn’t president,” and mix it all up at once. But that’s not how this works, because everything is terrible and we’re making cookies to forget that for a few minutes.

So start out — Oh. Wait. I forgot to tell you to preheat the oven. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Okay. Good job. You’re doing great.

Put the sugar into a bowl and give it a stir with a fork or whatever, just so that it’s kinda mixed up. This isn’t for any reason related to baking or chemistry, it’s just that the two colors of sugar look cool when they swirl together. It reminds me of this toy my parents had when I was a little kid that was blue sand and white sand and they wouldn’t mix together, but they would swirl around in this big oval thing and it looked really cool, like the clouds on Jupiter.

Add the coconut oil (which is probably going to be really firm since it’s winter, but if it’s melty because it’s warm in your kitchen or it’s summer when you’re making this or you live near the equator where it’s warm all the time that’s fine, too) and now stir it all together. If your coconut oil is firm, it’s probably going to separate into hunks (and not the cool fireman calendar kind). If that happens, just use your fork or whatever your stirring thing of choice is to smash the hunks around and get the mixture as smooth as you can. This is called “creaming” the ingredients together. I know it sounds kind of dirty, but I’m going to let you make whatever joke you want.

Now add the egg and the vanilla to the creamed oil and sugar, and stir it all up.

Most recipes tell you to combine the dry ingredients in another bowl. I think this is stupid and a waste of your time, creates a whole other bowl you have to wash, and isn’t something you need to do. So you can be a rebel like me and just start adding the dry ingredients to your bowl, or you can be a fucking lemming and put them in another bowl like The Man wants you to. Hey, if you want to be a puppet of Big Bowl, go nuts. I would say that I’m not judging you, but I’m totally judging you.

So add the salt and then the baking soda to the bowl, and give it a stir or two. Then take your flour, half a cup at a time, and mix it in. It’s going to be clumpy and annoying, but you just keep on adding it in until it’s more or less in one big hunk of dough.

Now, at this point, I stop using my spoon or fork or whatever, and I switch to using my hands. This is a thing I picked up from Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast, which is teaching me how to bake bread: for combining stuff like this, actually using your hands gives you a sense of what the dough really feels like, and gets you closer to what you’re making, so you can literally get a better feel for it. You don’t have to do this, of course, but it’s fun, feels kind of like mooshing Play*Doh around, and it’s just satisfying to combine all that stuff together with your fists.

Mix in your chocolate chips a little bit at a time until they’re all in the dough. I used to wonder why I couldn’t just dump them all in at once, which is a legitimate question. The answer has two parts. First, it’s the way we do it, okay? It’s always been this way and if it’s not broken don’t try to fix it. If you’re so goddamn smart with your “dump them all in at once” idea, why does literally every recipe tell you to put them in a little bit at a time? You think you’re smarter than centuries of bakers? I’m so proud of you. You sicken me. Second, it actually does make a difference in the way that the chips are spread around in the dough, so that each individual cookie has a good amount of chips in it.

After you’ve put your chips in, you can put in the cocoa nibs and mix them up, too. The dough is probably getting pretty stiff at this point, so remind it to think unsexy thoughts and keep on mixing until you feel like they’re spread pretty evenly around the whole thing.

Grab a cookie sheet. If you have a Silpat, use it. If you don’t, and your cookie sheet is shiny, you don’t need to do anything, but if your cookie sheet is dark, you probably want to put a tiny bit of coconut oil or nonstick cooking stuff on it so your cookies don’t stick.

Separate the dough into 12 parts and put them on the cookie sheet. I did six at a time, in two batches, but you don’t have to do it that way if you don’t want to.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, take the cookies out of the oven, and let them sit on the cookie sheet for two or three minutes before moving them to a rack to completely cool.

Be careful if you dive into these while they’re still hot, because the super melty chocolate chips can burn the fuck out of your mouth.

These cookies have infinity calories and will last for like fifteen minutes, so you should eat them all before they spoil.

You’re welcome.


if coffee then coffee do coffee more coffee else coffee

Since I’m not drinking this year, I haven’t been making beer. But I still like to make food things, so I’ve been teaching myself how to bake bread and roast coffee beans.

So the thing about making beer is that it really isn’t that difficult. Brooklyn Brew Shop says If you can make oatmeal, you can make beer, and it is entirely true. If you can just follow a recipe, you can turn malted barley, water, hops, and yeast into beer.

The thing about baking bread is that there’s a little more intuition to it than making beer, but not much. It’s incredibly satisfying to mix up flour, water, salt, and yeast by hand, fold the dough, let it rise, shape it into loaves, and bake it. There are all sorts of different types of bread to make, but that basic combination is pretty easy to understand. Like brewing, if you can follow directions, you can turn those things into bread.

Roasting coffee, though, is much more difficult to perfect. I’m using a smart roaster (the Behmor 1600+) that controls the delicate parts of the process, including the heat curve, the speed of the turning drum that holds the beans, and the cooling process. But roasting coffee isn’t something where you put the beans in, push some buttons, and wait until PRESTO you have roasted coffee beans. There’s a steep and complex learning curve (at least there was for me) and a very small margin of error. In my experience, when I’m roasting 1/4 pound to 1/2 pound of beans, there’s anywhere from 15 to 45 seconds of intense terror that I have to watch very closely, because in that tiny window of time, I’ll either end up with something decent or a complete a pile of fail. Unlike beer, which can sometimes end up not as hoppy or malty as I wanted, but still be drinkable, or bread, which may not rise as much as I wanted but still makes a nice tartine, if the coffee beans are off, they pretty much have to go into the trash. I mean, unless you’re really into wet cardboard.

So it was kind of a big deal for me recently when I had acquired enough data to feel like I knew what I was doing, and could reasonably expect the raw beans I put into the roaster to come out tasting like something I wanted to drink and share with others. (I didn’t mention that roasting coffee beans provides an opportunity for lots of notes, just like brewing and baking does, and it’s essential to do that if you want to get anywhere close to mastering it).

Anyway, I decided to offer some beans in the secret store, and the first batch came out yesterday. It’s pretty much exactly how I wanted it to come out, and I’m proud of myself, so I put some pictures from the roast on the other side of the jump, along with some notes on the process.

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One year ago, I rebooted my life. Has it worked?

Sometimes, I feel like I don't look terrible in a photo.
Sometimes, I feel like I don’t look terrible in a photo.

Just about one year ago, I took an honest look at myself and I didn’t like what I saw. I needed to reset a lot of habits, make some significant changes to the way I approached just about everything in my life, and keep working at it, even when it was hard.

I can’t even believe that it’s already been a year, and that it’s only been a year, because time feels like that when you’re 44, I guess.

Here are the things I decided to address:

  • Drink less beer.
  • Read more (and Reddit does not count as reading).
  • Write more.
  • Watch more movies.
  • Get better sleep.
  • Eat better food.
  • Exercise more.

Some of these things have been easier than others, and from month to month (and even day to day) what happens to be easy and what happens to be hard are constantly changing. I know that’s an obvious thing, but I say it because we can forget that, and consequently be unfairly rough on ourselves when we don’t live up to our expectations.

But most of the time, I look like this.
But most of the time, I look like this.

I know a lot of you who are reading this have been doing reboots of your own, and I want you to know that, no matter where you are in your personal journey, I am super proud of you. I’m not the boss of you or anything, but I give you permission to be proud of yourself. Go you!!

So let’s dive in here and see how things are going:

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