Friday, January 30, 2009

Rotisserie-Style Turkey

This recipe was inspired by the Rotisserie-Style Chicken recipe over at A Year of Crockpotting, which I have made and I loved, but I significantly altered the spice combination to better suit the turkey thighs I got on sale after the holidays. If it wasn't for that blog, I never would have thought that a slow cooker could make poultry crisp up just like an oven does. It's like magic!

Slow Cooker Rotisserie-Style Turkey

2 large frozen turkey thighs, bone in, skin on
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 1/2 tsp dried sage
1/3 tsp cayenne
1 tsp parsley
  1. Place turkey thighs in the slow cooker, arranging them so that the lid of the cooker will fit and they are overlapping as little as possible.
  2. In a small bowl, mix salt, paprika, onion powder, thyme, sage, cayenne, and parsley until well-blended.
  3. Rub spice mixture over the outside of the turkey pieces, coating them generously. If some falls into the bottom of the cooker, don't worry, it won't burn.
  4. Cover and cook on low 7-8 hours or on high 4-5 hours. Some drippings will accumulate in the bottom of the cooker, but do not drain them during cooking time.
  5. Serve over rice.
I am not a fan of spicy-hot food, and I really enjoyed this. The little bit of cayenne is just enough for flavour, but not enough to add zip, so if you like more heat in your food, I'd double the amount listed above. However, the proportions I used made for lots of flavour and meat that was so tender it fell off the bone. Keeping the drippings in for the whole cooking time prevented the meat from drying out and also kept the wayward spice particles that didn't stick to the meat from burning onto the stoneware. I cooked my thighs directly from the freezer, so they were frozen solid. I would reduce cooking time by 1-2 hours on low (1/2 hour to an hour on high) if fresh turkey is used.

I love my slow cooker. No fuss, hardly any mess, and food that appears to have been carefully monitored all day long with almost no real work.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 19

He that will not reason is a bigot; he that cannot reason is a fool; he that dares not reason is a slave.
~William Drummond

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Political Spectrum

My Political Views
I am a left social libertarian
Left: 6.32, Libertarian: 4.38

Political Spectrum Quiz

I found this test very American-centric. The opinion on cutting military spending was a problematic one, for example, since our military is massively under-funded, so even though I don't support offensive military action, I would support them being adequately funded for peacekeeping and sovereignty duties. However, it was clear the question was geared to Americans, whose military has a black budget and is inclined towards offensive military campaigns, so I would support cuts to their military spending. Regardless, my results are fairly predictable. I think I'm less libertarian in reality than the quiz indicates, since I support government taxation to fund social programs to a greater extent than the questions asked could explain, but again, it was clearly US-centric.

The quiz divides it up into foreign policy and culture specifically as well:

My Foreign Policy Views
Score: -6.77

Political Spectrum Quiz

My Culture War Stance
Score: -7.43

Political Spectrum Quiz

No surprises there. I like peacekeeping and I don't like governments trying to legislate their religious morality on everyone else (big shocker there, I know).

Now might be a good time to outline (briefly) my position on several major issues:

I am pro-choice. Pro-every-choice. I believe both that women have an absolute right to their reproductive freedom, and so abortion should be both legal and easily available, but I also believe that women should not be criticized for choosing motherhood as a career path. Feminism gave us the ability to choose something other than being a housewife and a mother. That doesn't mean we are obligated somehow to not pursue that option.

I am pro-gay in general and pro-same-sex-marriage. Being gay is not a choice, nor is it somehow immoral in the least. Marriage is not a special word that only religious people get to use. It is the name of a legal contract that two people choose to enter that has secular consequences. It can have spiritual consequences as well, but the religious ceremony and the legal contract are two separate things. My favourite argument is this: if marriage is solely a religious commitment, why can I, a mouthy atheist, get married in a hall by a justice of the peace to another atheist as long as the other atheist is a man? If marriage is a religious thing, you should be trying to annul all the atheistic marriages, not all the same-sex ones. My second-favourite argument is that it's been legal here for nearly five years and so far, no divine retribution. Either your god doesn't care, or your god doesn't exist. Either way, you're wrong.

I am also pro-universal social services, so pro-universal health care, pro-welfare, pro-universal drug plans, and pro-subsidized higher education. I think our health care system needs work (and could benefit greatly from creating a fast-track qualification program for foreign-trained doctors), but it is a great equalizer. If no one ever needs to worry about paying a hospital bill, they are far more likely to seek treatment before things become critical. Freely available health care improves the health of the whole population and gives the poor the same ability to maintain good health as the rich. In the US, I hear a lot about the inequality of the races. I don't think race is the problem anymore. At one time, visible minorities were oppressed and became impoverished as a result, and then, despite the civil rights movement, they couldn't achieve equality with their white oppressors not because of racism, but because of their continued poverty. There was no support system to keep them healthy and fed, no universally funded education system to help them learn, and no subsidization of the costs of higher education to help them get better jobs and so to give them a fair chance at achieving true equality. The problem in the US now is poverty more than any remnants of a racist past. A better social support structure would eliminate a lot of the inequalities like no anti-racism equality plan ever could.

I am anti-war. I am patriotic, and I can see the justification for some past conflicts, so I support the sacrifices of the military. I will never belittle the dangerous position they put themselves in for our sake. But I think world conflicts are only exacerbated, not solved, by war. Peacekeeping, diplomatic negotiation, and economic sanctions are all better ways of managing foreign conflicts than killing people.

I am also anti-gun. Hunting, fine. Police, fine. Sport shooting, fine. Personal handguns? No freaking way. Those aren't for shooting moose or ducks. Those are for killing people. The less guns there are out there, the less guns the criminals have access to. And we have very few gun murders in a year in this country, the majority of those being gang-related, not as a function of criminal activity against innocent citizens. If ordinary citizens don't have guns, most of the time criminals don't bother getting them either. But if everyone has a gun, it's more likely that someone will get shot. Especially if those people with guns are not experienced hunters or trained to handle guns, but ordinary people who don't know enough about using a deadly weapon to be expected to store it safely and to keep calm in a dangerous situation.

Obviously, I am anti-morality legislation. Legislating religious beliefs into "blue laws" or other rules that have no value as laws except to impose the morality of a single belief system onto everyone in a population is not only ridiculous but also unsupportable by the principles of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As an atheist, those sorts of things mostly just piss me off.

I am, however, anti-hate speech. This may seem at odds with free speech, but I believe that if it is a narrow enough definition, it is a very important tool to prevent the spread of hate and continued oppression of minority groups. I do think that the government in a democracy has a responsibility to protect the minority groups, even though they are elected by the majority. People shouldn't be able to get away with trying to convince people that some group is worthy of derision by publicly decrying them with hate speech. Hopefully one day hate speech laws will be irrelevant. But for now, they are a way to protect minority groups from propaganda meant to damage them just for belonging to that group.

I am pro-capitalism, but only with industry regulations and anti-monopoly statutes, as well as unions and minimum wage/workplace safety laws. Competition produces a healthy economy and a better quality of life in a country, but unregulated capitalism produces a 95/5 problem where 95% of the wealth is held by 5% of the population. Social responsibility and some government regulation helps that wealth spread out a bit.

Finally, I am anti-censorship. Hate speech should have consequences, but should not be hidden. "Bad" language, video game violence, and pornography are things that we should learn to adapt to and respond appropriately to, not things that we should try to ban. Parents should control what their children are exposed to based on their parenting philosophy, but the violence and nudity still exists and needs to be dealt with, not censored.

Overall, I think that putting someone somewhere on a political spectrum is maybe too simplistic. A person's views are not one-dimensional or even two-dimensional; they are so multi-dimensional that each person has a political spectrum position that is not exactly the same as any other person on the planet. That is why I don't like labels for political opinions in general; I am left-wing in relation to my own country's definition of the word, but other than that I'm not willing to use many other labels, because (as seen above) there are just too many to list in an easy package of opinions.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Luigi Washcloth!

What's Mario without Luigi?

After making the Mario Washcloth chart, I immediately thought of making a complementary pattern with Luigi on it. And so the Luigi Washcloth was born.

It's-a the Luigi Washcloth!


This is very similar to the Mario version and they look very much like a matched set. The Luigi one has a teensy bit more stockinette stitch at the beginning and end of the chart so that they would both be the same size: 44 stitches wide and 61 rows long. As with the Mario pattern, I went a little unorthodox on the charting and worked the raised-stitch pattern from right to left instead of from bottom to top.

CO 44 stitches. Knit three rows. The next row (row 4) will be a WS row and the first row of the pattern chart (click to enlarge):

Start and end every row with K2. For the 40 stitches in between the edge stitches, follow the chart. Blank spaces are knit stitches for RS rows and purl stitches for WS rows. Dots are purl stitches for RS rows and knit stitches for WS rows.

After the chart is finished, you should be about to start a RS row. Knit this row and the next two (three rows total), then BO with knit stitches.

I'm the sort of person who roots for the guy in second place, so I have a special place in my heart for Luigi. The guy deserved his own pattern too!

(Psst! Looking for the other Mario-gang washcloth designs? There are also Mario, Princess Peach, Bowser, Yoshi, and Boo patterns available!)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mario Washcloth!

When I finished my Scottie Washcloth project, I discovered that I had way, way overestimated the quantity of black accent yarn I needed. What on Earth was I supposed to do with piles and piles of black, dishcloth-quality cotton yarn?

I'm a take-lemons-make-lemonade sort of person, so I designed a new washcloth pattern. Since the yarn is black, I figured something unusual was in order, so I chose to knit a Mario washcloth. After all, I am a part of a generation that grew up with Super Mario World.

It's-a the Mario Washcloth!


The finished product is 44 stitches wide and 61 rows long. I went a little unorthodox on the charting and worked the raised-stitch pattern from right to left instead of from bottom to top as is conventional. I found that way easier to chart so that it turned out looking correct.

CO 44 stitches. Knit three rows. The next row (row 4) will be a WS row and the first row of the pattern chart (click to enlarge):

Start and end every row with K2. For the 40 stitches in between the edge stitches, follow the chart. Blank spaces are knit stitches for RS rows and purl stitches for WS rows. Dots are purl stitches for RS rows and knit stitches for WS rows.

After the chart is finished, you should be about to start a RS row. Knit this row and the next two (three rows total), then BO with knit stitches.

VoilĂ ! It's a bathroom accessory worthy of a Nintendo geek.

(Psst! Looking for the other Mario-gang washcloth designs? There are also Luigi, Princess Peach, Bowser, Yoshi, and Boo patterns available!)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 18

History is full of people who out of fear, or ignorance, or lust for power have destroyed knowledge of immeasurable value which truly belongs to us all. We must not let it happen again.
~Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Knowledge and its continued availability, not faith in some supreme power, is the means to immortality. In increasing somehow the sum of human understanding, even just by a small amount, and passing that knowledge on to others, we become a part of that intelligence. Though we as individuals may die and disappear, our contribution to society lives on as others use it at a starting point upon which to build their own understanding.

One depressing thing about the series The Universe is the sobering reality of the fact that someday the Earth is going to be obliterated, either by our sun dying, or by a nearby larger cosmic phenomenon, or by the universe ripping itself apart atom by atom. It is very difficult to accept that, no matter what we do or how hard we try to survive, reproduce, and pass on our experiences to the next generation, someday all of our effort will disappear, as if it had never happened at all. It's important to focus on the present, sure, and the pursuit of knowledge has innate value, but no matter what we do to prevent ignorant human beings from destroying sources of human understanding, someday our universe will destroy every hint that we ever existed not due to malice, but due to the laws of physics. I can see why believing there is intelligence controlling the universe is comforting, because knowing that it is simply the sum total of fundamental forces with no central mind to choose to protect us is terrifying. Nothing out there cares what happens to our tiny little planet in our insignificant corner of the universe, and we can't make anything care, no matter how smart we are, or how nice we are, or how much we want to believe in its existence. It's not there. Nothing is out there caring about our little primate species, or about anything at all whatsoever.

We need to stop hoping that something out there will protect us and save us from destruction, because nothing will. Someday, each and every one of us will die. Far in the distant future, someday our planet will be obliterated and all evidence of our existence will disappear. There's nothing we can do about that. We need to focus on what is innately valuable, even if it will inevitably be lost in the future - we need to forget about our petty disputes over land and resources and (pettiest of all) religious worship sites. We need to work together to achieve great things and improve the quality of life for everyone. If each generation is happier and more peaceful than the last, and each one increases our knowledge of the universe, then we are doing valuable things with our lives. It's important to focus on the big picture. Life is too short and the capabilities of human beings are too unusual to waste both on war and religious dogma.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Bread

I improvised this recipe on New Year's Eve while getting ready to have people over. I knew some of the people would be staying over, so I needed a breakfast plan. I had already organized omelet ingredients, but I thought we could use a bread to go with them, and I thought something sweet would be nice. It disappeared so quickly that I didn't get a photo of it before it was gone!

Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Bread

6 tbsp water
6 tbsp milk
2 eggs
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 cups flour
3 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup chocolate chips
2 1/2 tsp yeast
  1. Place all ingredients in bread machine in the order listed above.
  2. Set for 1/2 lb or 2 lb loaf, white bread cycle, light crust and start.
  3. Double-check the consistency of the bread during the first mixing cycle. If it is sticking to the sides too much, add flour, and if it is too dry, add a little bit of milk or water. (I found that the generous amount of cinnamon made it a little dry, so I added more milk.)
I found that in my machine the chocolate chips survived intact. If your machine tends to melt them down, I would wait to add them until the second mixing cycle, because otherwise the chocolate might overwhelm the cinnamon flavour if it's all mixed together. We toasted the bread and put butter on it, and it was a big hit.

The funny story associated with this is that I had a small panic attack after the second mixing cycle when it looked like it wasn't going to rise at all. Don't panic if this happens to you! I suspect it just was due to the greater mass of the bread with all those chocolate chips. It turned out fine in the end - plenty big and not too dense.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 17

If the Bible is mistaken in telling us where we came from, how can we trust it to tell us where we're going?
~Justin Brown

This is not directly related to this week's quote, but I just found out about the History Channel series "The Universe", and I've been watching the first season. It illustrates perfectly what I mean when I say that the reality of the universe is far more awe-inspiring and magnificent than any mythological creation story. Our very existence is fascinating not because we are unique, but because we endure. Earth has been pounded by asteroids and comets, flooded by radiation, and is destined to one day be burned away to nothing by its own sun. And yet, as soon as there were conditions even remotely suitable for life, there was life. Life finds a way to replicate itself, obtain nutrients, and maintain its systems even in the harshest and most unforgiving environments, some with no sunlight, some with toxic chemicals, some extremely frigid, and some exceedingly hot. When an object pounded into Earth and killed nearly all living species, those that were left did not give up and die - rather, they went on to repopulate the entire planet with the body forms we recognize today, such as tetrapods, arachnids, and insects. We are a powerful astronomical phenomenon away from ceasing to exist at all times, and yet life still strives on.

My point is, life isn't unique. It almost certainly exists, or at the very least once existed, elsewhere in our solar system. The inspiring thing about life is that it keeps showing up. Conditions do have to be within certain parameters, but they're much wider than we once believed, and life is far from being a miraculous occurrence. It turns out that us being in a very narrow "habitable zone" in our orbit around the sun is just one favourable circumstance that made life turn out the way it has on our planet, but it is not necessary for life to develop. Scientists believe microbial life once existed on Mars (and possibly still does, underground), and that Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, also has the right conditions for life. Mars may be close to us, but Europa certainly isn't anywhere near the so-called "habitable zone".

The series so far makes me feel a little bit insignificant and vulnerable, and that's scary. In a way, I can see why religion might make that feeling go away for some people, but I feel it's more honest to admit we're only a blip in history, a tiny spec on the arse of the universe. That doesn't make us unimportant, because life is always important, even if it isn't unique, but it does give us a sense of perspective. Specifically, we aren't special little favourites of some divine power. We don't have "dominion" over the rest of the life in the universe. We aren't separate from it; we're part of it. And we're as vulnerable as anything else to things beyond our control.

We should remember that, rather than spending our time hiding under the covers with books we already know to be fiction, hoping desperately that we're more "special" than everything else.

Friday, January 9, 2009

My First Sweater!

Today I completed the project that officially makes me a knitter: the first sweater. (And no, I did not invoke the Sweater Curse by making it for the boyfriend. If he's lucky, he'll get one next winter.) It was surprisingly simple: a tube with two little tubes dangling off of it. I don't think I've ever had so few ends to sew in. There is a major advantage to making things just one colour!

This is my Tempting sweater with a cable adaptation created by Catherine:

It's the Tempting Sweater with Cables!

The last photo didn't come out quite the right colour (I took it in a room with compact fluorescent light bulbs), but it's a good closeup of the cabled yoke. The other two photos represent the correct colour of the sweater.

I like the final product (though I'm still getting used to not hiking up the off-the-shoulder look), which I made one inch longer than the pattern suggested. I also extended the sleeves by an inch or so. Knitting it was incredibly boring, though... K2 P2 rib for 16 inches? Not my idea of a brain workout, and having to switch every two stitches from knitting to purling made the work go slower as well. I'm thinking about using the same principle of ribbing for stretch to make something less mind-numbing in the future. We'll see.

As for my next project, I'm not going to make the same mistake I made last year and start a scarf in January, only to finish it at the end of March when things are warming up. A toque, maybe, because it's faster than a scarf (and I really, really want to make one for myself with a Darwin fish on the front), but I'm mostly thinking about spring clothes next. But not having a project feels bizarre. I'd better get another one going soon, or else I might do something drastic, like lug the laundry down to the machines.

Overall, the sweater was very easy and produced something worth wearing. Hard to complain about that!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 16

Geology shows that fossils are of different ages. Paleontology shows a fossil sequence, the list of species represented changes through time. Taxonomy shows biological relationships among species. Evolution is the explanation that threads it all together. Creationism is the practice of squeezing one's eyes shut and wailing "does not!"

Welcome to 2009! I am now the proud owner of a beautiful, leather-bound, gold-paged copy of On The Origin Of Species. This week's quote has long been one of my favourites, and I thought it would be appropriate to kick off the first Monday of the new year with it.

As in every year, this year I challenge everyone to take charge of their lives, take full responsibility for the consequences (positive and negative) of their actions, and to do what is right, not based on what people claim is "moral", but what each individual knows is right in their minds. And finally, if every day we all made an effort to imagine ourselves fully in another person's situation, we would be more compassionate, more fair, more giving, and more caring individuals living in a world that valued equality over fear, equalization over greed, and reason over superstition. If we embraced our fellow human beings as equals rather than promoting a fear of outsiders and a fear of change, and if we used logic to explain things rather than clinging helplessly to explanations that make people feel special, we would live in a world that was infinitely more tolerant, more honest, more healthy, more educated, and more sustainable.

It's hard to see a problem with that.