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It was a total mystery

By John, 14 May, 2024

Today I was trying to figure out why my car was starting to smell. While getting the kids out of the car, I looked over and saw the fish guts bucket, that I had yet to take out of the car and clean out. There’s a lid on the bucket but it’s been in a hot car for a couple of days.


Dad chicken soup stock

By John, 14 April, 2024

I keep a bin of carrot ends, celery ends, onion ends and skins in the freezer. When it's Costco Rotisserie Chicken Day, we eat the chicken, then throw the freezer bin of stock vegetables in the pot as well. To this add as many celery sticks, carrots, and onions as you like. You're looking at maybe 3 carrots, 4 celery sticks, half an onion or so, total vegetables.

Optional: you can roast the vegetables ahead of time, cover them with oil, oregano, garlic powder, whatever. 20-25 minutes at a preheated 425 degree oven. Chop them up into 2 inch size chunks, don't just stick the whole carrots in there. Sprinkle with salt, maybe throw some whole peppercorns in there.

Remove as much chicken from the carcass as you are planning on using, either in the soup you make, or otherwise. Set the chicken aside and throw it in the fridge.

Take the carcass and throw it in the pot. I like to break it up into chunks but it's not necessary. Throw the vegetables in the pot as well.

Take a quart jar and fill it with water. A quart jar has four cups. Pour the water into the pot. Keep pouring water into the pot with the quart jar, keep track of how many cups it is. You want the level of the water to be a half an inch or so above the level of the stuff in the pot.

Do you have bouillon cubes? One bouillon per cup. If I am trying to economize, I will replace the bouillon with salt, maybe one scant teaspoon salt per cup. Finally, add 1 teaspoon of vinegar, either white or apple cider. This helps break down the cartilage of the chicken carcass.

What else? Some sprigs of fresh thyme, rosemary, or oregano. Or a tablespoon of dried versions of those spices. If you have white wine, a quarter cup of white wine. A splash of fish sauce. A parmesan cheese rind. Chunks of tomatoes are also great.

Simmer for at least 40 minutes, maybe even 80 minutes. Strain the broth components and discard.


Figure out what you have on hand. Pick from the following list:

  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Onions
  • Corn (sliced off the cob, or just added from a can
  • Rice
  • Lentils
  • A can of diced tomatoes
  • Tomato paste
  • Pasta / noodles
  • Fresh thyme or parsley
  • The chicken from before

Put the stock back on the stove. Put it on medium low heat. Do you have potatoes? Chop the potatoes, throw them in. Same with anything on the above list. Put them in the soup in the order they are in the list above. Cook for at least 10 minutes after you added everything, but do a little taste test to make sure everything is cooked properly, you don't want crunchy pasta or potatoes.

You can add mushrooms too! If you want to add mushrooms, fry up the mushrooms for best flavor. To fry the mushrooms, slice them, and fry them in an empty pan over medium heat with no oil or water. The mushrooms have a lot of water in them and this will drive off a bunch of water. After 4-5 minutes, add some canola or olive oil and continue to fry them until they brown on the bottom. Then add them to the soup.

In summary, my daughter's cat typed this:




By John, 14 February, 2024

Two avocados
Some cumin
Some garlic powder
Some salt
A few cranks of the black pepper grinder
The juice of one lemon (you could also use a lime, IDK. I know a lime is traditional but the brightness of the lemon is great.)
Optional: plenty of good paprika. The vibrant red will dull the green and make it less appealing. So I put paprika in only when I’m spreading this in a sandwich.

Use one of those pastry butter things to mash the avocado. Faster and more consistent than the fork.

The quality of this recipe depends on the freshness and the quality of the spices and the avocado. There’s nowhere to hide!

Minnesota QSO Party!

By John, 3 February, 2024

I'm at scout camp this weekend with the boys, and one of the other dads brought his ham radio equipment to try to participate in the Minnesota QSO Party.

The goal is to make a ham radio contact with someone in every Minnesota county. This seems straightforward in principle but we're suffering from being deep in the St. Croix river valley, as well as trying out some new equipment without having all of the fun automatic tuning boxes and thingies that make it easy to tune the antennas.

I've long wanted to get my ham radio license, in that "oh wouldn't that be nice" sense. So I'm learning a few things about the hobby, and one of the things I am learning is how fiddly everything is.


Annoying cast iron pan update #3: omelette and dumplings

By John, 17 January, 2024

For the next thing I decided to cook in the annoying pan, I made an omelette. I figured, oh, this will stick for sure.

Well... it did not! Granted, I did float the omelette over a little butter on the bottom of the pan. I treated it like I was trying to make the omelette in a stainless steel pan. Put a little butter in, then pour the omelette into the puddle of butter. Easy.

And it worked for this pan too! Not a thing stuck, not even a little errant cheese sticking out of the omelette.

So then I reheated some frozen dumplings according to package directions (put a little oil in the pan, heat for 5 minutes.) I did that a couple of times. I baked some jalapeño cream cheese poppers in a 450 degree oven. Some of the poppers burst and the cheese came out and started bubbling and crisping up... and they just slid right off the pan. I can't get anything to stick!

I don't know what to do with this pan, other than just use it. It's ridiculous.

Score some points for the "Just use your cast iron pans and cook on them" crowd!

I don't know what I am going to do next. Maybe some tuna melts.


Annoying cast iron pan update (leftover curry)

By John, 13 January, 2024

This is part two of the saga of my aggravating cast iron pan. You can read part one here.

Last time, after cleaning the pan, I did put some oil on it. And wow, that was educational. I am used to a few drops of oil being good enough for a whole frying pan. I put a good half teaspoon on the annoying pan and it was barely enough to coat a third of the bottom. It's REALLY rough. So it takes a lot.

Another note on oiling the annoying pan: I am used to using paper towels to apply the oil. On this pan, when I use a paper towel, if I rub it with any sort of pressure, the bottom of the pan just grinds down the paper towel into shreds. So I have to be careful about that. I am certainly not putting on as thin of a coat of oil as I have done with my other pans, that's for sure. Sometimes more like, patting it on. But I don't want to lay it on too thick because I don't want it to get gummy, like parts of my Blackstone griddle got.

If you'll recall from the last post, I was on the fence between making an omelette and heating up leftover curry. Both of them seemed like they would be sticky on a super rough, brand new cast iron pan with almost no seasoning. I decided not to go with the omelette. I was super tempted, but decided against it because I did have a lot of curry and figured I should probably start eating my way through it.

So I had my pre-oiled pan. I put it on the burner and put it on low medium heat. I added some curry and some rice before the pan got very hot. Then I put a few tablespoons of water around the outside edge of the pan, and grabbed the lid from my regular lodge dutch oven (which fits perfectly) over the annoying pan, and let it heat up to simmering. Then I turned the heat down.

After a bit I started stirring and simmering and to my surprise -- nothing stuck at all. Not even when I got it up to a "pretty darn good simmer". I scraped out the pan, and really, this is the worst part of the whole experience: the feel and sound of the spoon scraping out anything out of the rough bottom metal pan. It is tooth grindingly annoying.

However, was the food delicious? It was. Did the annoying pan work fine? Yes it did.

One more thing. After the fire hamburgers, and the 20 minutes of cleaning I did last time, there was still a patch of burned on gunk on the bottom of the pan, about the size of half of my palm. I was not going to clean the pan more. I was worried, how will the pan develop seasoning on top of that gunk? What am I doing with my life? Why am I making my life more difficult for the sake of this five dollar pan?

So I was quite worried the food would stick, especially to that spot. Now to my surprise, after cleaning out the pan after the curry, I found out that a big chunk of the gunk had disappeared. I mean, not gonna lie, that does mean it got in my food. But I decided I wasn't going to be worried about it because I grew up in the 80s eating styrofoam cups as a kid.

So: baked on crud: slowly coming off. Just a patch the size of a nickel or two. The feel of that bottom: it's terrible. But I'm feeling a bit better about this whole project. I think the oil I put on after using the pan soaked into the gunk and lifted it off the next time everything was heated. And that whole process works better at getting the gunk off than boiling water in the pan (which I tried) and scrubbing with a plastic scrubber (which I also tried).

Anyway, after the curry, the pan cleaned right up. With the exception of that little patch of gunk, it's actually looking pretty reasonable, just in terms of color. It's still like cooking on sandpaper though, not great. I put another coat of oil on it (I tried to go lighter on the oil, but that meant shredding more paper towels) and it's ready for the next adventure.


I got a new cast iron pan, and it's incredibly aggravating

By John, 13 January, 2024

Last summer I got a cast iron pan new in box for 5 dollars at a yard sale. Maybe my wife picked it up for me? I don't remember.

It's the most ridiculously rough, stereotypical bad "Made in China" quality cast iron a person could imagine. It is not pre-seasoned or seasoned in any capacity. Light grey, straight from the factory cast iron.

I was going to rehab it and try to think of ways to make it better. I had a plan to sand it down and make it super smooth, I even bought some flap discs and an angle grinder to make that happen. But then when I got the actual angle grinder and the flap disks I looked at the angles I would have to use to make it work. And the angles were weird, and I wasn't convinced I wasn't going to just burn a gouge in the bottom of the pan.

And then I started thinking. One thought I had was remembering a forum post where someone said a rough cast iron pan builds up to smooth over time as the seasoning fills in the rough pockets of the cast iron. And the other thought I had was, I mean, I wonder: do I even need to season this thing. What if I just cook with it?

So I cooked some burgers over a fire. Cleaned it up to "pretty good" and threw it in the box with the rest of the camping gear. That was 6-8 months ago. I remember being rather satisfied with the performance of the pan over the campfire.

Today I hauled it out of the basement. And in the clear light of day, it was clear there was a lot of mess still stuck on the bottom of the pan.

I scrubbed. I scrubbed with hot water. And I even boiled water on the stove and scrubbed some more. And the result was.... not great. I am sorry I can't put a picture up here because I broke pictures on my own website but yeah it's got some crusty bits and it's very clearly not seasoned.

I mean, fire baked on hamburgers on a non-seasoned cast iron pan. I didn't even oil the pan before I threw it on the fire.

But I'm still curious. Can I make it work? I am not going to sand the pan down or grind it or make it smooth, and am instead just going to cook with it. I'm not going to season it. I'm just going to follow the main rules of cast iron:

  • No soap
  • No dishwasher
  • No tomatoes or acidic foods
  • Don't heat it up TOO hot
  • Scrub it out, dry it off, put a light coat of oil on it

I want to be YEAH I THINK THIS WILL WORK but I am super not confident it's going to work in any capacity. Because I just spent 20 minutes blasting crusted off gunk and it looks super patchy and rough.

To be clear, I already have another cheap cast iron pan that I have re-habbed and made a mess of mistakes on over the years, but now it's just about perfect and I love it. I have to remind myself, I can stop this experiment and use my good cast iron any time I want. So yeah, I am not going to commit to a time frame, I'm just going to be using this super shitty pan, for as much as I can, and we'll see what happens.

Now I am going to throw some rice and leftover curry in it and heat it up on the stove. Or maybe I'll make an omelette. And I'll keep you updated!



By John, 17 October, 2023

I’m back in the ER, this time it’s for me. (Had a spate of kids needing emergency medical care recently, in part because some of them don’t have the decency to get sick when the Urgent Care is open).

This is the first time for me in I’m not sure how long. And it’s certainly the first time I’ve had a hallway bed instead of a room.

All I have to say about it is being in the hallway feels like being in the middle of an ongoing HIPAA violation. I know so many medical details of the people around me. I saw some of them walk into their rooms so I know what they look like. I just hope I never run into any of them ever again. (Or failing that, that I can forget all about it before I see them again!)

Also, there’s a lot of screaming going on. Lots of confused, frightened, mentally confused patients today. If I was in a room I might not notice as much but in the hallway I can hear a lot.

More garden work today

By John, 26 May, 2023

Today I excavated the pile of sticks and poles that is part of my tomato support system. If you imagine the stump in my plot, the sticks and poles are in a heap on and around the stump.

First I cleared out a bunch of old weeds and branches I’ve been throwing on the pile for the past 6 months. Then I slowly untangled each stick and pole from itself and from the weeds growing around them. Last year I did not use the full system, I did some weird angular madness based on central poles, along with traditional tomato cages. 

I set aside the wooden poles, and only placed the metal poles in the ground.

This year I packed the tomatoes in far tighter than I normally do, so I am missing three metal poles. Also I am already having misgivings about how tightly these tomatoes will be packed together once they are fully grown. 

But at least I got all of the metal poles pounded in. Next step is to use twine to affix the wooden poles to the metal stakes. I need some replacement wooden poles as well, since the ones I have are falling apart after years of being exposed out to the elements. 

Since I had excavated around the stump, I decided to do some more intensive weed removal. Then I planted my 4 remaining Thai chili pepper plants, as well as my two remaining sweet red chili pepper plants, in, on, and around the stump itself. Then I watered the whole stump really good for 10-15 minutes. I also watered everything else (the cucumbers were looking especially peaky.)