Recipe: Fuck You, It’s Chili

May 07

Because of actually stewing the tomatoes like some kind of hippy, this recipe takes too much effort to be an actual “Fuck It” recipe*. However, since its key ingredients are two things that purists — or as everyone else calls them, joyless dicks — insist should never be in chili, namely beans and tomatoes, I’m calling this Fuck You, It’s Chili, because fuck you, it’s chili.

Fuck You, It’s Chili

5ish fresh tomatoes. If you have some in the fridge that are about to go weird, this is a good way to use em up.
Spices for stewing the tomatoes. I don’t know, oregano or some shit? I use Penzeys Frozen Pizza blend and maybe some Cajun seasoning.
1 15-ounce can black beans. Or whatever that is in metric.
1 15-ounce can chili. That’s right, we’re putting chili in chili. Because I cook for vegetarians I use Trader Joe’s vegetarian chili. Use whatever floats your boat. Hell, throw in a can of Dinty Moore beef stew if you want to. Because fuck you, it’s chili.
Chili spices. Whatever chili spices you have lying around. I recommend Penzey’s Chili 9000 because if you don’t like that you fail at taste buds.


1. Boil water in a big ol’ pot. While you’re waiting for it to heat up, cuz that shit takes forever, prepare a bowl of ice water. This is a good way to use up that weird clumpy ice that always clogs up the ice machine. Why does that happen anyway?

2. Once the water is boiling, throw the tomatoes in for one minute. Just one minute. Let em roll around a bit.

3. Fish the tomatoes out (not with your hands!) and throw them into the bowl of ice water.

4. Peel those tomatoes! It should be easy now, because of that boiling-icewater voodoo trick. How does it even work. Throw away those peels, they’re gross.

5. Chop those tomatoes! You’re not going for precision here, Iron Chef. Just make em into chunks. Throw out the gross stemmy bits.

6. Put the chopped tomatoes back in the pot (you did empty the water out first right? Do it. Clean your drain.) on medium heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Simmer means it’s vaguely bubbling. Come back and stir it whenever you remember there’s a pot on the stove.

Okay that’s the hard part done! Now for the easy part:

7. Throw in the canned beans, canned chili, and spices. Do it.

8. Heat, stirring a bit, till everything’s nice and hot.

9. Eat that fuckin’ chili! Maybe with some “garlic powder and hot dog buns” garlic bread or something.

There you go, a nice warm main course that’s halfway between actual grown-up cooking and college student lazyness. I’m typing this up during step 6, incidentally.

* Recipes of mine that take mad shortcuts or require minimal effort fall into the category of “Fuck It” recipes. Such as my renowned “Fuck It, It’s Nacho Night”. As noted, taking the effort to peel and stew tomatoes is not Fucking It. But let’s face it, canned tomatoes are nasty.

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Review: Starbucks Flat White

Jan 09

The holiday season is over, and that means the post-holiday winter season has begun at Starbucks. This is the time of year when the beloved holiday-themed drinks like the Gingerbread Latte fade away, so there’s always a new drink or two introduced to try to keep peoples’ interest.

Usually the new winter drinks are sugary, often some variation on the mocha or a new flavoring for lattes. But this year Starbucks is trying something different: the Flat White.

Not gonna lie, I had to refresh my memory on what exactly a flat white is. You can check Wikipedia or Starbucks, but the gist of it is that a flat white is a drink popularized in Australia that’s like a latte or cappuccino, but with ristretto (shorter) shots and carefully steamed milk that’s a finer, more “velvety” foam.

See what’s missing there? No flavoring, no syrups, no toppings, no fancy froufrou stuff. The key flavor in a flat white is the espresso itself. With a menu increasingly reliant on sugary sweet drinks, it’s nice to see Starbucks coming back to a drink where it’s the actual coffee in the spotlight.

I’ve mentioned before that I usually get my lattes and Clover coffees sweetened, but for the purposes of this review I ordered a flat white with nothing extra — just the drink as it’s normally made. And you know what? I don’t miss the sweetness. The flavor of the espresso is very nicely balanced against the milk, so the drink isn’t bitter or harsh to tastebuds accustomed to sweeter drinks. If lattes are your thing, definitely give the flat white a try.

There’s a couple of particularly notable elements to this drink, besides the lack of “candy”. First is the ristretto shots — these are shots of espresso that are brewed for a shorter length of time than usual, giving the shots a different character since the espresso coming out of the machine changes a bit over the course of the brewing process. For a while my “Starbucks Drinks Simplified” page stated that these shots couldn’t be made on the new superautomatic machines like they could on the older, more manual machines that were in use when I worked for Starbucks. Clearly this isn’t the case. Ristretto shots used to be something very rarely requested by customers, but if they’re promoting a whole drink centered on them then clearly the machines can handle it.

The second notable element is the milk. Setting aside all the talk about “microfoam” and “velvety”, the key thing for the barista is that the milk in a flat white is fiddly. Look, people who see pictures of lattes with those pretty hearts in the foam, or awesome pictures or whatever, come to me and say “can you do that?” and the answer is no, I can’t. Starbucks doesn’t train baristas in pretty foam techniques because the vast majority of customers just want their drink in a cup right now. They don’t want to wait for you to make a pretty heart on their drink and the twenty drinks ahead of them. Hell, they don’t even want to wait for you to heat up the milk. Handcrafting drinks with care is a constant struggle between the ideals of slow, individual attention and the impatience of a constant line of customers. But I kept an eye on the barista after I ordered and she did have to pay extra attention to the milk steaming. And when I popped the lid off, there was in fact the “white dot” in the foam that the Starbucks website crows about. The milk did seem to have a different texture than usual, too.

Put these together and you have a very unusual drink in the Starbucks lineup — a combination of a special, rarely-requested type of espresso shot and a more labor-intensive milk steaming and pouring process. To be honest, I’m glad all that work isn’t hidden under some kind of super-sugary flavoring syrup and whipped cream.

Options for customizing this drink would be similar to a latte: you can get it decaf, you can get it flavored, and you can order it with soy. You may not get the full experience with soy milk, however, since it has different steaming properties than milk and foams differently (which is to say, it’s hard as hell to get a good foam with soy). Likewise, if you ask for this drink with flavor syrup you’ll be hiding the best parts of it, so you might as well just order a latte. I suspect you can order a flat white on the rocks (iced), but that would just be an iced latte with ristretto shots — a drink which you can order more cheaply than the flat white.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable drink. Even if you normally lean toward the sweeter side of the menu, give the flat white a try. You might find yourself liking it a lot.


  • What: Starbucks Flat White
  • Where: Starbucks locations
  • Options: Decaf or regular, hot or iced, choice of milk, flavoring syrups can be added (but if you get it iced, soy, or flavored you’re missing the point)
  • Verdict: A delicious variation on the standard latte, showcasing the taste of espresso.



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Chestnut Praline Latte (Starbucks)

Nov 08

The winter holiday season is back, and that means Starbucks’s red cups and holiday drinks have returned. This year, along with the classic Gingerbread Latte and Eggnog Latte, plus new yearly staple Caramel Brulée Latte, comes a new holiday drink: the Chestnut Praline Latte.

Nom nom nom.

Nom nom nom.

I’m a sucker for nutty pralines, so I was pretty excited to try this drink. And I can say right away — I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a sweet drink, like all their holiday specials, and the taste is definitely nutty and praliney. It reminds me of the Toffee Nut Latte, another favorite of mine. Or as my wife said when she tried it, “it tastes like a cookie.” I’m gonna have a tough choice every time I go into Starbucks this season, choosing between the Chestnut Praline and the Gingerbread for my latte fix.

This drink is made with the usual latte fixings (espresso and steamed milk) plus chestnut flavoring syrup, whipped cream (if you want it), and “spiced praline crumbs”. Like all lattes, you can get it iced, decaf, and with your choice of milk. You can probably also get it in Frappuccino form, if you’re in the mood. Unfortunately it’s quite sugary, so diabetics, carb-avoiders, and calorie counters may be out of luck.

All in all, this new winter offering is a pretty dang tasty drink. If you like the Toffee Nut or Gingerbread lattes, you’ll probably dig the Chestnut Praline too.

Bullet-pointed summary:

  • What: Chestnut Praline Latte
  • Where: Starbucks
  • Options: hot or iced or Frappuccino, decaf or regular, your choice of milk
  • Verdict: A sweet and flavorful addition to the holiday drink lineup
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Personal Thursday: Retail Horror

Oct 30

I asked on the Twitternets, as you do, what I should write about for this week’s Personal Thursday entry. And I got a request for retail horror stories. So here is an entry about that.

After I got that request, I started thinking about horror stories from my retail days, at Borders and then Starbucks. Let me tell you, I had many unpleasant interactions with customers, despite my efforts to give good or at least adequate customer service at all times. I’m too much of a Boy Scout to actually be a dick to a customer no matter how tired or angry I might be. I used to type up long, angry screeds full of expletives at whatever the lastest customer idiocy was.

But as I mentally chewed on those, trying to decide which ones to write about, I realized I’ve cooled off on them. I may retain some bitterness about some of the common threads of retail work, but the individual stories have faded enough that I can’t muster up the energy to fill them with “colorful metaphors”. Mostly they serve to remind me to be kind to the retail workers (and everyone else) I meet in my day to day existence.

Some people dismiss retail work as “trivial”, “not real work”, or — in the current debate on raising the minimum wage — “not worth real money”. In their minds the retail worker is a fumbling high school student, a college student in a “fluffy” major, or someone who has somehow failed at life and is therefore not worth the dignity of basic humanity. The numbers show of course that this is not true, and that for many retail workers it’s the one thing putting food in their, and their families’, mouths. But let’s put that aside for a second; let’s pretend that entry-level retail is all surly high schoolers too lazy to competently perform basic tasks. Even in that weird parallel universe, they are still worthy of compassion.

Many horror stories from retail workers have a common theme: a rude, oblivious, condescending or downright hostile customer. Why is this? Why do so many people feel the need to be jerks to someone who’s not only there to provide a service, but is literally forbidden to defend themself? It takes almost zero effort to be a little understanding, so why do so few people stop to do it?

I don’t know. I feel like it’s similar to bathrooms. No no, hear me out — just about everyone here in the US has a bathroom at home. And most of those people don’t pee on the walls, smear poo on the floor, or leave their vomit in the sink. Most people have a bathroom that, while probably not spotless, is safe for visitors to use without coming into contact with bodily fluids or trash. They don’t break the fixtures. They don’t put holes in the walls. They don’t scratch things up.

And yet … someone does all those things in public restrooms. Someone who wouldn’t dream of leaving an unflushed turd on the seat at home has no problem leaving that little landmine in a restroom that other people have to share with them. A restroom you share with roommates or family or pets gets a certain amount of respect as a shared space. But a public restroom shared with strangers, and cleaned by strangers? Some people just can’t be bothered not to shit the place up. It’s not their problem. They don’t need to clean it up. They’re not gonna sit down and find their ass suddenly wet. Unless of course the person before them thought the same way and the workers hadn’t had a chance to clean it up.

And it’s the same thing, it seems, with retail workers. You don’t know them, you don’t have to deal with any consequences for being a dick to them, so it’s not your problem. So hell, might as well be a dick, right? It’s your chance.

Not all customers think this way. Not even most customers, depending where you are. But you know what? It only takes one person. Or two, or five. Like a turd in the urinal*, even after they’ve left and the physical evidence of their assmillinery has been cleaned up, the stench lingers.

There’s a flaw in my analogy of course, and it’s this: people aren’t restrooms. They’re not made to be shat on even if you aim in the right spot. And I’ve found that 99% of the time it takes zero goddamn effort to treat them with kindness. The person behind the cash register may be performing an outwardly simple task, but even the simplest of tasks becomes harder when you have to balance rules, management, customer desires, the current status of the store, and the inevitable turd in the urinal.

So I guess what I’m trying to say with this rambly mess is — be kind. Have compassion. The sting of being poorly treated will eventually fade in a person’s memory, but being an asshole will stay with you for life.

*Turd in the Urinal is my Marcel Duchamp cover band.

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Personal Thursday Oops It’s Friday Edition: Things I Recommend

Oct 24

Okay, okay, so I missed a Personal Thursday. But it’s always Thursday somewhere, right?

Instead of some kind of long, well-composed entry on something personal today, you’re getting a bullet-pointed list of things that I’m really digging right now. If any of them seem like they’re up your alley, give em a try!

Book: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. I read this book after a recommendation I read on a blog and man it was good. You can read the blurb on the cover or on the book-purchasing website of your choice, so I’ll skip that and instead tell you that it has some excellent SF world-building, well-executed use of flashbacks, linguistic details that warmed the cockles of my ex-ling-grad-student heart, and an interesting use of Ursula K. LeGuin-style gender ambiguity. The sequel, Ancillary Sword, just came out and I can’t wait till I have time to read it.

Music: Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Mix Vol. 1. Okay look, I haven’t seen this movie because I don’t go out to movies but I know the basic details behind this mix. It’s a fun listen, and great upbeat music to work to. Also, it has the Baby Seal of Approval (seriously, my fourteen-month-old loves it).

Video Game: Elder Scrolls Online. This is an MMORPG entry in the Elder Scrolls series (of which Skyrim of “arrow in the knee” fame was the previous installment) and it’s my current game obsession. On my therapist’s advice I’m making sure to include some video game time in my schedule almost every day, and this is what I’m spending it on. The graphics are fittingly pretty for a Skyrim followup, the voice acting is great, you don’t have to interact with other players if you don’t need to, and best of all it’s better than any other MMO I’ve played at actually, you know, telling a story. With other games I’ve stayed up late to finish a quest because I wanted the reward for finishing it or whatever — with ESO I’ve stayed up late to finish a quest because dammit I want to find out what happens! Also notable is the inclusion of LGBT characters in the game. Not just in the “you can marry characters regardless of gender” sense but in the “my female character got asked if she was trying to marry the countess”, “lizard lady asked me to look for her injured girlfriend,” “helped a man rescue his husband” sense. There are actual, canonical gay/bi NPCs in this game and it makes me happy. See game companies? Diversity is not fucking hard. Also, John Cleese is in it. This game could be an blog entry of its own but as you might imagine I don’t want to write too much about games right now.

Coffee: Sun-Dried Ethiopia Yirgacheffe (Starbucks). That’s what I’m drinking right now as I write this — brewed on the Clover machine, two pumps of classic syrup, and some half-and-half. It’s got a very interesting and complex flavor. It’ll set you back some extra cashmonies, being a Reserve coffee, but it’s very tasty.

Hobby: Learning to Sew. I’m still doing this and guys, it’s fun. Even IKEA sells an inexpensive sewing machine and fabric by the yard! Even if all you end up sewing is rectangly things (that’s pretty much all I do with crochet), who doesn’t need more pillowcases and napkins? I even have a pretty good pattern for a reusable grocery bag, and since I live in a plastic-bag-ban area that’s always a bonus. It’s a lot easier for me to fit in some sewing here and there than knitting, which is more time-consuming.

TV show: Sleepy Hollow. I haven’t gotten a chance to watch this season but I watched last season (mostly late at night while sitting up with the baby) and it’s fun. It has the kind of story you come up with late at night when you’re hanging out with your buddies and hyper as hell. Every time you think it’s getting a little over the top, it gets even crazier. The leads have a nice Scully/Mulder vibe (and one of the leads is a black woman — ridiculously rare on US TV!) and it balances well between humor and drama. When I first started watching, I felt like they spilled too many beans in the pilot. Beans that should have been trickled out over the course of the first season. But as time went on I discovered that they spilled all those beans right away because they had a HUGE stock of beans still left to go! Good lord. It does suffer from lazy writing here and there (Lt. Mills: “I don’t want to talk about this right now.” VERY NEXT SCENE: Lt. Mills: [talks about it in great detail, with flashbacks]) so if failures in writing quality make you itch it might not be the show for you. Elsewise, give it a try — and start from the beginning.


So there you go. My unsolicited and possibly dubious opinions on things that I like, right at this moment. They’re not my favorites of all time … who can really pick a single favorite book ever? … but if you wanna try something new and you think like me, give ’em a shot.


What about you guys? What’s your favorite things right now?


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Personal Thursday: Chromebook Blather

Oct 16

Since it’s come up a few times on Twitter and people ask: Yep, I have a Chromebook. A bright teal HP Chromebook with a 16GB SSD and a Rapunzel sticker covering up the HP logo. In fact, my first non-rectangular sewing project was to make a nice slim bag to put it in.

It’s not my primary machine. As a lifelong computer addict who lives with a professional programmer/sysadmin, I have a tendency to collect and hoard electronics. My main machine is still my trusty Macbook Pro, followed by my homebuilt Windows 7 gaming box and my Windows 7 work laptop.

So with all that stuff lying around, why did I get the Chromebook? Well, my other machines were bought for power. But sometimes, you don’t want power. Sometimes you just want something to eff around on the internet with and maybe get some simple writing done. Sometimes you want a laptop where, if you break it or lose it or it gets stolen, you just go “damn” and deactivate it from accessing your Google account, instead of having a Very Bad Day. I snagged it for about two hundred on a Woot deal, and (like all HP Chromebooks) it comes with a moderate amount of free T-Mobile internets for life. I spend most of my laptop time in places with wifi, but knowing I have backup internets in case that doesn’t work out is nice.

What the hell is a Chromebook, you may be asking. Well, think of it like this — it’s a laptop that runs a web browser, and that’s all. Oh, there’s some apps and such, and they’re working on getting Android apps to run on it, but everything is based around the Chrome browser. The thing is, you can do a lot with just a web browser these days. Games, streaming video, writing, spreadsheets, etc etc etc blah blah blah. I have a ton of stuff open on my Macbook but what gets 75% of my time? Chrome. What gets the rest? Mostly my IM client and iTunes. And if I’m sitting at Starbucks, with an iPod for my music and Trillian for Web handling my IMs … yeah, I pretty much just need the browser. So the Chromebook works great for that.

If you’re wondering whether to get one, my advice is this — think very carefully about what you need it for and how you would use it. Try running your regular computer with nothing open but Chrome, and get everything done that you need to. Think about how often you are around wifi, and how much mobile data you might need. Figure out how much you would want to actually keep locally on the machine, instead of grabbing it from the internet. These things have very limited storage; you can get some extra with an SD card, but if you need to keep a ton of stuff handy for instant access it may not be enough.

Chromebooks are inexpensive, but a two hundred dollar laptop is only worth two hundred dollars if it does what you need it to. I could never use this as my main computer — no Skype, limited multi-client IM options, limited desktop-like apps, no Scrivener (what I wouldn’t give for cloud-based Scrivener!), none of the big video games I like to play, cheap-feeling keyboard, no place to put the tons of TV shows I’ve gotten from iTunes or the digital copies that came with some of my Blu-rays.

But when I just want to, oh let’s just say, sit at Starbucks typing up a quick Personal Thursday blog post with minimal distractions … it fits the bill pretty well.

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Review: Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Coffee

Oct 10

When I spotted Pumpkin Spice coffee at Trader Joe’s, I knew I had to give it a try. The ingredients included orange peel, and orange is a big favorite of mine, so I had high hopes.

Now, a warning about flavored coffee beans: adding flavor to ground beans is often a way to try to mask substandard coffee. And coffee that’s sold pre-ground, as this is, may not be at the peak of its freshness. I don’t grind my beans fresh at home like I should, but at least I have an idea how long ago they were ground. When you buy a canister of ground beans, all bets are off.

Ponder the alluring packaging.

Ponder the alluring packaging.

When I opened the canister, the smell was quite striking. Unfortunately, I don’t mean that in a good way. I expected to smell pumpkin pie spices, or possibly orange peel. What I actually smelled was … honestly, I don’t know. It seemed almost chemical. It certainly didn’t smell like any ingredient I would expect in pumpkin spice coffee.

I brewed this coffee the same way I brew my regular morning coffee — as a cold brew. It’s too fine a grind for a French press filter, so I had to strain the grounds out manually, but that’s no big deal. I tried brewing it with and without the brown sugar included in my usual cold brew, so I’d have a good basis for comparison.

This coffee is definitely flavored. But the flavor doesn’t seem like any other pumpkin spice product I’ve tried. If you’re brewing this hoping to get something similar to a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte, you will be disappointed. I couldn’t really identify any of the traditional spices, nor anything in the ingredients list. It just has a vague “some kind of spices” flavor.

As for the coffee beans themselves, I’m not impressed. But then, I have never been a fan of Trader Joe’s coffee. It may be a quality thing or it may be a personal preference. I have tried some coffees of theirs that were pretty decent (the Breakfast Blend comes to mind). But compared to the cold-brewed Verona I have every morning, this stuff was just not as good. A little bitter, a little burnt — and yes, I know that’s an odd thing to say in comparison to a Starbucks dark roast! — and just underwhelming.

If you like Trader Joe’s coffee, you may enjoy this more than I did. But don’t expect it to have a classic pumpkin spice flavor.


  • What: Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Coffee
  • Where: Trader Joe’s grocery stores
  • Verdict: Underwhelming coffee, with a not-very-pumpkin-spice-like flavor. But it may be a decent brew for fans of other coffees from Trader Joe’s.


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