Friday, October 30, 2015

Food Friday: Winter (butternut/acorn) Squash Soup

The ten of you who regularly read this blog will recognize this recipe as being very similar to my pumpkin soup recipe from last year. It is almost identical. Though I like the some what different flavor I get from the butternut and acorn squash.



Ingredients:

I am not going to provide precise amounts with this recipe because when you aren't dealing with everything pre-processed in cans you have to learn to adjust. Since the amount of squash will probably be the limiting factor. So start with less liquid than you think you will need and add until you have the consistency you want. For example, I did not use the entire box of chicken stock. I have a little left over.. which I have no idea what I am going to use it for.




  •  Some squash(I had 1 butternut and 1 acorn)
  • chicken stock
  • diced onions (medium)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 pint heavy cream
  • salt
  • pepper
  • thyme
  • parsley

Preparation: 

This is much easier if you just used canned pumpkin.  Cut the squash in half. Dig out the seeds with a spoon. Now comes the "fun" part. It took me about twenty-five minutes to get out as much of the meaty part of the squashes.  I used a sharp paring knife and a spoon and I dug and I cut.  I ended up with a nice pile of squash bits.  I threw them into my food processor and pulsed until I had made my own squash puree.

Put the puree, the diced onion, the garlic, and chicken stock into a saute pan. You are going to have to make a call as to how much chicken stock you need. At the end we are going to want a soup with a nice thick consistency. Check out the top picture for what we hope to end with.  Bring this mixture to a boil and then let it simmer for thirty minutes.  Now you need to blend this. You can either use a stick blender or you can use a regular blender. Careful kids it's hot. Spice to your preference. Simmer the blended soup for another thirty minutes.  Stir in the heavy cream.  Put into a bowl and garnish with parsley. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Science of Self Improvement

In my previous post in this series, I told you how I came to realize I needed to understand the science of human behavior and self improvement. In this post I will lay out what I learned through my studies.



Sources

Much of this post is based on a book called Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. But I also read a lot of other articles and sources of information. I am not going to bother to try and find references and links to them all, even if I could. So if you trust me on any of this it is your own fault.

Two Factors

Two important factors intersect on our quest for self improvement: the limited ability of our brains to do things, and the power of habits to maintain behavior without significant effort. Obviously, the situation is much more complex and can depend a lot on the individual. But continued study has shown us many helpful things.

Our Brains Run on Fuel

I will present a very simplified explanation of how our bodies power our brains. Our bodies take the food we eat and convert it to energy. I good portion of that energy gets sent to power the most important part of us, our brains. When we run out of energy from food our bodies start converting fat etc into more energy. This thing is obviously much more complex involving neurotransmitters etc etc..

Every time we do anything with our brains we use up some of this energy. Learning a new task at work, resisting the temptation to eat a brownie, trying to win an argument in a meeting, these all take up the amount of available fuel your brain can access. We replenish that fuel through eating. Those snicker commercials aren't far off.  You aren't you when you are hungry. You have a harder time doing things and making decisions.  When and what we eat can help keep our brains fueled. Foods that release their energy slowly, such as nuts, can keep us going while sugar will give a quick but short burst of brain power.

If you have been following this you may be realizing one of the reasons dieting can be difficult. You need the fuel from food to resist the temptation to eat too much, but you need to eat to give yourself the brain fuel to resist temptation. It can be difficult but is not impossible. There are tricks you can do and long term success is a very real possibility. 

So willpower can be described as the amount of fuel your brain has available and the efficiency in which it is used.

The research points to two interesting caveats. There does seem to be an inherited amount of willpower. Some people are just born with more than others. Most importantly it can be trained like a muscle. They studied people who showed the attributes of having a lot of willpower. These people did things  that "flexed" their willpower.  Stand still for long periods of time hold you hand for as long as possible in a bowl of ice water. One of the most important things they found about people who seemed to possess a lot of willpower is that they used as little of it as possible. That leads us to the next important point: habits.

Habits Conserve Brain Fuel




Habits are simply ingrained behaviors. They are things you have trained yourself to do requiring almost no effort. Habits range from brushing your teeth or putting the toilet seat down, which take almost no brain power at all, to getting up early in the morning and going to the gym.  What they found in researching a lot of very successful people was that they didn't spend a whole lot of time or effort deciding what to do. They didn't spend their time fighting to find the motivation or will to do positive things. It's just what they did. They busy executive who started the day with a stress relieving workout just did it. A habit begins with willpower since they are formed by repeated actions.

Make a habit  make a new habit re-enforce habit

I believe one of the most powerful tools at our disposal for long term self improvement is the creation of positive habits. This leaves our limited willpower to handle the really important things. My coworker does this.  He uses tools and automates much of his work. Repeated tasks become as easy as one click or including one function in some code. This way he isn't wasting his limited resources of time and brain power on trivial things and can concentrate on the actual hard parts. When we make the mundane things of life habits, we free up energy to consciously make positive habits. By making it so we don't have to put much effort into doing something that positively impacts our health and well being we can create a life of slow and steady improvement.

I am convinced of the need to create  conscious positive habits in order to live a good life.  In the next post in this series I'll tell you about the practical steps I have chosen to take to create good habits.

An Aside: The Self Esteem Myth


The early chapters of the willpower book deal with the self esteem myth. There has been a prevalent belief for awhile now that it is more important for a person to feel good about themselves instead of being good. A series of studies in the late70's/early 80s showed that successful people had high self esteem and the unsuccessful had a low self esteem.  It was surmised that if we elevated every bodies self esteem performance would increase.  (There was actually lot more studies and thought into it than they just assumed.) 

The same psychologist (not gonna bother looking up his name) how began the self esteem movement continued to study the issue.  By the 90s he realized he had made a big mistake. To simplify it, the people who were good at things had a high self esteem because they were good at things not the other way around. They found almost no improvement in performance based on increasing self esteem. In fact if people were below average at something and you increased their self esteem, they became worse at those things. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

That was the week: October 19th through 25th Sad cubs made me sick



I had the day off on Monday and it ended up being very productive. I went shopping, got my hair cut, and even did some laundry.


Tuesday and Wednesday were spent watching in horror and impotent rage as the Cubs got swept in the playoffs. Both nights a lay in bed unable to fall asleep until 2 A.M. I was angry and upset with my heart racing. I kept playing over and over in my mind the games and the lack of effort. Why did I and the fans care so much more than the players? I was sick of wait till next year. Why couldn't it be this year? I came to the conclusion that for my own mental health I would need to, as far as possible, renounce my Cubs fandom.

After few days, my anger began to fade and I started to get excited by the young talent on this team. Wait till next year!

I had made plans to visit my parents over the weekend. Friday afternoon at work I began to get a scratchy and sore throat.  I chalked it up to allergies and just went about my stuff. At home the symptoms started to pile on.  A dull headache formed and I started to feel weak and achy. I checked my temperature and it was 99.5F. Throughout the night things I just kept feeling worse.  The highest I checked my temp at was 100F.  I finally went to bed and piled the covers on top of me to deal with the shivering.  Then followed hours and hours of me feeling miserable. I would be snotting and coughing and waking myself up to roll over to my other side. Finally I had to get up to go pee. So I staggered unsteadily to my feet and while dizzy lumbered into the bathroom.  When I crawled back into bed I decided to see how many hours I had been suffering. It was one hour later than when I went to bed. The rest of the night passed in similar annoying fashion.

When I awoke on Saturday I felt a little better. The fever dropped to 99.4.  I managed to be awake for over almost an entire hour before going back to bed for a four hour nap. The fever lessened throughout the day until it was 99 when I went to bed.  I then slept for 11 hours.

By Sunday the fever was mostly gone and the headache was a very low grade.  I managed to go for a walk and felt better than I had for days. I still stayed in and tried to go to bed early.  Being sick sucks man.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Food Friday: Shakshouka

It's been a long time since I've done a Food Friday recipe. To make up for it I give you one of my favorite things to make.


As I have mentioned on other food fridays, this is not a foody blog and I am not a photographer. You are going to see poorly lit shots of the mess that is my kitchen. A lot of the mess  was actually made during the cooking process since the pan was a bit too small. I don't know why I am defending myself this is my blog :)
.

Shakshouka is a North African dish of poached eggs in peppers, tomatoes, and onions. The final result provides a lot of flavor, is  good for you, and easy to make. With a basic starting recipe, shakshouka can be versatile in how you spice it and what you can add. People eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Let's get to it.


Ingredients:


  • Medium sized onion (diced)
  • Large red bell pepper (diced)
  • 1-3 cloves of minced garlic (depends on how much you like garlic)
  • 2 cans of diced tomatoes or equivalent(I used whole peeled since it is what I had)
  • 3ish eggs
  • cumin 
  • paprika (not pictured)
  • cayenne pepper 
  • chilli powder
  • salt
  • pepper
  • handful of parsley (actually important)
  • tbsp of olive oil (not pictured)

Preparation:

I recommend preparing this in a large saute pan with a lid.  I used my cast iron skillet since it was clean and at hand. If you look closely at the pictures you can see it was almost not big enough. In fact some spillage occurred because of its size. I ended up using the lid from the saute pan anyway in the final stage. 

Slowly heat the oil over low heat in the pan while you dice up the onion and mince the garlic. Add the onions to the pan and let them soften over low heat for 4 to five minutes.  Then add the garlic and let it all soften for another 5 minutes or so. While this is going on dice up the red pepper.


Now stir in the red pepper and give the whole thing another good five minutes to continue softening everything. I think I actually gave it like 10 minutes.


Now add the diced tomatoes with all the juice from the cans.  I had whole tomatoes so I had to use my wooden spatula to smoosh them into smaller chunks. No you season the dish.  I am not going to give specific amounts. Season to your specifications. I dumped a whole bunch of cumin and paprika in mine. I like it nice and spicy.  Let this mixture simmer for a bout 8 minutes. It should start to reduce a bit before moving onto the next step. 



Now add the eggs. Crack the egg and dumped them carefully right into the juice. We are going to poach these eggs in the spicy saucy goodness. I like to dish some of the sauce over the eggs just to make sure I get as much flavor as possible. Then cover the dish and let it simmer from between 10 - 15 minutes. I went with 15 since I didn't want the yokes to be runny. If you want a a softer yoke only cook it fifteen minutes.


Now comes the last but important part. Sprinkle over a good bit of parsley. Your think you can skip the parsley. It's just a useless visual garnish that nobody wants anyway. WRONG!  The parsley adds an important mild bitter flavor to the concoction of tastes we have filled this dish with. Now I have made shakshouka without the parsley and it is still excellent but It tastes noticeably better to me with the parsley added. 


Servings, Storage, and Reheating:

This serves 2 or possibly 3 if you have something else or it is a light meal. I've found that the eggs don't reheat well. So I make sure to eat all the eggs during the first sitting. That usually leaves me with a good half if not more of the vegetable mixture. This can easily be stored in some plastic ware and then reheated in the microwave for a few minutes.  It makes a great side for something the next night. I particularly like pairing with a pork chop.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

That was the Week: October 11th through 18th 2015 Ads and sports and state parks


The early part of the week saw the Cubs return for 2 games in Chicago against he hated Cardinals.
They held off to win game three on Monday and then came the all important game 4.

If the Cubs managed to win on Tuesday they would win the first playoff series ever at Wrigley. They took an early lead but the Cardinals kept chipping away.  By the time the ninth inning cam around the Cubs were up by two runs. I was so nervous for the top half of the ninth inning that I went for a walk.  A two run lead just didn't seem like much to me.  If they had been up by like six maybe I could have watched. In the end the Cubbies triumphed and moved on to play the NY Mets.

On Saturday I sat down and finally did something I had been thinking about doing for awhile. I added ads to this blog. I've had ads on my little used tech blog for a couple of years but finally decided to add them here. I have a hate hate relationship with ads on the web. Though they should be unobtrusive and only show up in two spots on the page, I don't think I have the right to force you to have the ads show up on your browser. With that in mind, if you don't want to see the ads feel free to install one of the available ad blocking software on your browser. Almost all browsers have them. My blocker of choice is ublock. Just search in your browsers add/extensions to find it.

Also I can block certain ads so let me know if you see something inappropriate.  Though I probably won't do anything about it :)


Sunday I decided to relax and not stress my self out over the Bear's game (don't want to talk about it) or the Cubs games (really don't want to talk about it) that I decided to drive out to Kickapoo state park and take some pictures:







Wednesday, October 14, 2015

That was the week:October 5th through 11th Much sportsing of the sportsers was sportsed


Wednesday was a very big sportsing day. The Chicago Cubs had a one game playoff series against the Pittsburgh Pirates to see who would get to play against the hated St. Louis Cardinals. Also the Blackhawks played their first game of the new season after winning the Stanley Cup last season. I did my usual Wednesday activity of going to Buffalo Wild Wings for trivia. A really nice crowd of cubs fans filled the place. We cheered a lot.  Two of my Cardinal fan friends were there. They dressed incognito for the occasion. After the Cubs triumphed we all sang Go Cubs Go.  Sadly the Blackhawks lost.

On Friday they played the first game against the Hated Cardinals (TM).  I once again went to Buffalo Wild Wings to cheer them on. This time the place was filled with Cardinal fans. Sadly they got to do a lot of cheering. The few of us cubs fans there huddled together in a small glum circle. 

Not wanting to repeat the horror of witnessing cheering Cardinal fans I watched the Saturday game at a friends. That did the trick since my actions greatly affect the outcome of any sport event I am interested in.  The Cubs won and evened up the series. 

Sunday I watched Bears miraculously pull out a win against he Kansas City Chiefs.  The Bears had two touchdowns in the last 3 minutes of the game. Also my older brother ran in the Chicago Marathon.  

Peace out.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

That was the week: September 28th through October 4th





Monday we were graced with the Super Blood Moon Eclipse (tm). After I got home from my usual Monday activity of going to the bowling alley to waste time, I grabbed my tripod and my old Nikon prosumer Coolpix L110.  The camera has served me well but it is not really what I needed to get good pics of the eclipse.  But I did my best.(It has come to my attention that this was Sunday not Monday... but I am leaving it in.. deal)

Click the pics below for bigger sizes.


Blood moon

This year I tried to figure out why fall ranks as my favorite season in the midwest. Specifically late September into early October. I think the angle of the sun produces a perfect warm light. In the dead of summer the light can be stark but in fall everything has a warm glow to it. We also get a a lot of cloudless skies. One Wednesday I went for a little walk and caught a wonderful sunset.


As good as that sunset looked it did not compare to the one on Friday. I actually had to stop my walk and just stare in wonder.  The colors looked unreal as if I gazed upon a water color painting.





Saturday dawned blustery and overcast. I don't think the temperature ever got to sixty. That didn't matter because I driving with my Mom to go visit my grandparents. My grandparents are in their nineties and have health problems as you would expect most people in their nineties to have.  It was a pleasant trip despite the chill and the wind.  At this stage my grandparents sleep a lot during the day, but I am used to because I have a cat. I ended up in bed by 10:30. I was that tired.

 Sunday morning I went for another walk. I do a lot of walking. As I walked by the retention pond, I noticed not far away in the field that the heron had a friend. There was now a pair of herons.  The noticed me and lofted away on the giant wings and spindly legs. Seriously herons are huge.  The landed a short distance away and in my mind I thought, "you go herons, make baby herons."


Monday, October 05, 2015

Music Monday: Gary B - Step into the Sunshine

Step into the sunshine
so far from the dark clouds
and pray to the new day
cause it's time to move on