General Archive

Friday, March 13, 2015

New Blueberry Muffin Recipe

Blueberry MuffinI've just posted a new recipe to the How To & Recipes portion of my site, Blueberry Muffins.

To describe this reciple, I'll just quote what I put on that page, "Usually when making a staple like muffins, I'll just go to the Joy of Cooking (or the 1975 Edition) and follow the recipe there. But for the first time ever, after dozens and dozens of successful recipes, the Joy of Cooking let me down a bit. The muffins were only okay. So, we tweaked the recipe - a bit more leavening agent, a bit more sugar, and some raw sugar sprinkled on the tops, and the modified muffins came out much better. We've also had a head-to-head competition in the kitchen between these muffins and ready made mixes (just add water and fresh blueberries), and these muffins were the winner."

In fact, my wife took a few to work the other day, and one of her co-workers said it was the best blueberry muffin she'd ever had. I suspect she might have just been hungry.

I'll add a special note on the image source here. Usually it's just a small note at the end of the entry, but I stole this image from another site with their own blueberry muffin recipe, Diva Entertains - Best Blueberry Muffins, so I felt like I had to give a little more of a call out here. Her recipe does in fact look very good - a bit more complicated than mine, perhaps, but good. I think I might actually give it a try the next weekend we get a bunch of blueberries.

Image Source: Diva Entertains

Monday, February 16, 2015

Happy Fastnacht Day 2015

Fastnacht day is tomorrow. I'm sure my daughter and I will be up before dawn to make fresh fastnachts for all of our friends. If you're not quite sure what fastnachts are, or are looking for a recipe to use tomorrow, read on. (Since I don't really have much new to say from previous years, the rest of this post is just slightly reworded from last year.)

Our 2017 Fastnachts - A Double Batch

Depending on where you are in the world, you may call tomorrow something else, like Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day. But from where I'm from in Pennsylvania, it's called Fastnacht Day (here's a link to the Wikipedia article). Traditionally, you make potato based donuts, called fastnachts, on the morning of Fastnacht Day, supposedly as a way to empty your larder of all the fatty, sugary foods in preparation for the Lenten fast. My elementary school even used to give out donuts with the lunches on this day. In celebration of Fastnacht Day, and so others can join in, here's my family's recipe for making them:

You're supposed to wake up early to make the fastnachts on Tuesday morning (they're freshest that way), but a few times I've made them the night before, and they're still okay. They keep pretty well in a brown paper lunch bag. I also like to put a little bit of powdered sugar into a ziploc bag, and a mix of granulated sugar and cinnamon into another one, to coat the fastnachts just before eating them.

To see just how popular fastnachts are back up in Pennsylvania, go have a look at this article, Fastnacht reminder -- order yours before Tuesday, with a photo showing some of the 2800 fastnachts that a local church made, or this article, Frying fastnachts for pre-Lenten splurge, about a fire company that made 42,000 of them for a rundraiser. Here's an article from last year, Fastnacht day is here!, with a few more pictures showing different ways of making fastnachts, including a church with a rolling fastnacht cutter to cut dozens at once (we use pint glasses and shot glasses).

I took a few pictures a couple years ago while we were making the fastnachts. The first one below is my daughter rolling out the dough to cut more fastnachts. The second is the first batch frying up in the pan. We've doubled the recipe the past few years, so all the pictures in this entry (including the one up top) are for twice what you'd normally get from my family's recipe. But all of us (my wife, daughter, and I) take them in with us to work/school to share them, so the double batch still goes quickly.

Alex Rolling Out the Fastnacht Dough Frying the Fastnachts

A guy I worked with from Chicago mentioned a similar tradition up there - paczkis, from the Polish immigrants. But instead of a hole in the middle like my family's fastnachts (not all fastnachts have the hole), they have a filling, usually jelly or creme. I guess lots of groups have invented traditions to allow indulgence before a 40 day fast.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Happy Belated Darwin Day 2015

Darwin's BirthdayYesterday was Darwin Day. I meant to post something yesterday, but it completely slipped my mind. But since I don't have the time to come up with something original today, I'm just going to repeat, almost word for word, the post I made last year.

To quote one of my previous Darwin Day posts, Charles Darwin was "the man who presented evolution in such a way and with sufficient evidence that it became obvious that it was the explanation for how life developed on this planet. Others had ideas of transmutation before Darwin, and Alfred Russel Wallace even came up with a theory of natural selection very similar to Darwin's at around the same time, so it's apparent that humanity would have eventually recognized how evolution works. But Darwin's genius in presenting all the evidence for evolution in the way he did certainly gave the field a huge head start." Today is the 206th anniversary of his birth.

While Darwin is well remembered for his work on evolution, one of my favorite quotes of his from The Voyage of the Beagle had nothing to do with science, but was rather a social commentary on his times.

As it was growing dark we passed under one of the massive, bare, and steep hills of granite which are so common in this country. This spot is notorious from having been, for a long time, the residence of some runaway slaves, who, by cultivating a little ground near the top, contrived to eke out a subsistence. At length they were discovered, and a party of soldiers being sent, the whole were seized with the exception of one old woman, who, sooner than again be led into slavery, dashed herself to pieces from the summit of the mountain. In a Roman matron this would have been called the noble love of freedom: in a poor negress it is mere brutal obstinacy.

To celebrate Darwin Day, I'm going to provide links to a few of my previous entries. Since I've written too much about evolution to link to every evolution entry, I'm going to limit these links to entries specifically relevant to Darwin or written just for Darwin Day.

Tragic Murder of Three Muslim Students by an Atheist

Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-SalhaA few days ago, three Muslim students were shot and killed in a parking lot in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Washington Post - Three Muslims killed in shooting near UNC; police, family argue over motive‚Äč). The victims were Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. All three were Muslim. The gunman, Craig Stephen Hicks, was a 46 year old atheist.

The religious beliefs of all those involved have raised questions over whether or not the shootings were religiously motivated, or whether they were solely a case of someone losing their temper and overreacting over a parking space. While the police are still investigating this, it won't make any difference to the victims or their families. Hicks's actions were despicable.

Various atheist and secular groups have responded to this incident, universally condemning Hicks's actions. Hemant Mehta has an entry on his blog, The Friendly Atheist, Three Muslim Students Were Killed in a Tragic Attack Carried Out by an Atheist, listing excerpts of some of these responses. If you want to go directly to the source for the full responses, here are links to the statements at each organization's own site.

It's worth reading all of the statements, but here are two excerpts from the Secular Student Alliance statement that I think are particularly good.

Everyone at the Secular Student Alliance is appalled by the murders of Deah Bakurat, Yusor Mohammed, and Razan Mohammed Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill, North Carolina yesterday. We are further appalled by the trauma and terror caused by these murders and offer our condolences to the victims, their family, and the greater Chapel Hill community. The Secular Student Alliance encourages students to work with each other to understand one another and make the world a better place. These killings work in the exact opposite of that cause.
The Secular Student Alliance promotes pluralism and secularism. We work alongside people of faith, and work to spread the understanding that both people with and without faith have the capacity to do good. Nothing about the lack of a belief in a god supports the murder of innocent people, and we absolutely condemn what has happened. We hope that dialogues can happen, and bridges are built, not burned, in the wake of this.

These deaths were tragic and senseless, and there's no excuse for the horrendous actions committed by Craig Hicks. My heart goes out to the families and friends of Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha.

Image Source: USA Today

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If you're interested, here's another article on the murders, USA Today - Chapel Hill 'rocked' by killings of 3 Muslim students.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

War on Christmas 2014

Santa in the CrosshairsChristmas is only two weeks away. Maybe I just haven't been following the right news sources, or maybe the issue's dying out, but I haven't heard a whole lot about the War on Christmas this year. I did Google the phrase, and found that the right wing site, The Blaze, still has several War on Christmas articles (and they're written from the oblivious position you'd expect from a site like that - how dare those atheists insist my city actually follow the law, even though a majority of our residents want to break the law), but even there there were only 10 articles from this year - hardly a raging war. Thank goodness. I'm hoping the right wing types who get so bent ouf of shape over the separation of church and state or the inclusiveness of saying Happy Holidays are finally getting over themselves and that in a few more years the only mention of the War on Christmas will be people remembering curiosities from the past.

Anyway, I've written a few good 'war' posts in the past that are still interesting. The first two links below are my favorites. The first includes a historical perspective on Christmas, and how it wasn't always the warm and fuzzy holiday it is today. I especially like the quote from a historian who described Christmases past as "a nightmarish cross between Halloween and a particularly violent, rowdy Mardi Gras." Actually, that sounds kinda fun. The second article is about the attitude that people have taken towards Santa Claus that I just don't understand. Why do we insist that children earnestly believe in this silly myth, even once they get old enough to start questioning its plausibility? Like I point out in the article, everybody has a good time with their kids around Halloween with ghosts, goblins, and vampires without pretending they're real. Why can't we let kids enjoy Santa Claus the same way? On the other hand, there's a meme* that's gone around about Santa that I find pretty funny.

Santa Jesus Meme
Source: Master Marf (no idea if that's the original creator)

I guess I rambled a bit there. Anyway, here are my previous War on Christmas posts:

But I really do like Christmas. My wife's already put up the tree in the house. I've already decorated our big tree out front. My daughter's been checking her advent calendar every day. I'm close to having more Christmas songs stored on my computer than what's actually possible to listen to on Christmas Day. And when that day finally gets here, we'll do the presents, visiting with family, a big Christmas dinner. In fact, we do pretty much everything associated with Christmas other than go to church. So, here are a few of the positive Christmas posts I've written.

And as a bonus, here are links to humorous Christmas related pages on other sites.


* I really don't like how to many people, the term, meme, has become synonymous with a picture with a catchy sarcastic saying, rather than Dawkins' original coining, but I guess that's the way language works. Speaking of, here's one I just came across from Meme Generator that's rather fitting for this entry:

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