Gambrill State Park Green Trail

On Monday I hiked the Green Trail out at Gambrill state park. The hike was mostly pretty good, with a couple really great views. There’s a bit of the trail that runs parallel with a road, and another where you’re sort of walking down a private driveway past recycling bins, so that’s not ideal, but on the whole, it’s pretty good.

Sourdough Pizza Crust

I’ve been making homemade pizza for quite some time. I’ve experimented with quite a few different recipes. I’ve also been making sourdough bread pretty regularly for about four or five months now. I’ve not bought bread in at least two or three months. I combined what I know about both and came up with what is now my favorite pizza dough recipe.

In a small mixing bowl, mix together:

  • 300 grams sourdough starter (approx 100% hydration)
  • 450 grams water
  • 3 tsp olive oil

In a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer combine:

  • 3 tsp salt
  • 850 grams bread flour

Begin the dough hook on low and allow it to mix until well combined (just a few minutes). Rest the dough for 15 minutes. Knead the dough again in the mixer at medium speed for another 2-3 minutes.

Divide the dough into six equal pieces (easiest to divide in half and then divide into threes).

Form each piece into a ball. Place on a silpat and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise for approximately 5-6 hours.

Each round makes a 10-12 inch thin pizza crust.

Dust a wooden peel with flour. Press the dough ball into a disc, and then work with your hands to expand. Do not use a rolling pin.

Top the pizza with your favorite toppings and bake for 5-6 minutes at 550 degrees on a pizza stone.


BBQ Sauce

Here’s the recipe for my favorite BBQ sauce – thin, vinegar based, and a little on the spicy side.

In a small pot/saucepan add the following:

128g ketchup
12oz cider vinegar
4.25 oz water
0.8oz molasses
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp chipotle powder

Measure everything but the salt and spices by weight. This has the advantage of being more accurate and you don’t have to clean up your measuring cups – just set the pot straight on the scale and tare it out. I have no idea why I did ketchup in grams and the rest in ounces. Oh well.

Mix ingredients together and simmer over medium low heat until the ingredients come together and it reduces slightly. The sauce should still be very thin, but not watery. Once the desired consistency has been reached, allow it to cool, put it in a jar or better yet a ketchup-style squirt bottle and then refrigerate.

This vinegar-based sauce is perfect for pulled pork sandwiches because the acidity cuts through the fat and really brings out the flavor of the meat. It’s by far my favorite.

Chicken Pulao

My take on this.

Take a five pound package of chicken leg quarters. Remove the skin and trim excess fat. Separate the leg from the thigh and trim any pieces of the breast bone in. I discarded those pieces because there were too many small broken rib bones that I didn’t want to end up in the dish. If your butcher is better than mine, you could keep them I’m sure.

Have the skinned, trimmed chicken pieces in a bowl and add about 1 tablespoon ginger paste, 1 tablespoon garlic paste, 1 tsp red chili powder (I didn’t have any, so I used cayenne), and 1 tsp turmeric, and about 2 tsp salt. Mix thoroughly, then add about 3/4 cup plain yogurt. You really just need enough yogurt to coat well and make a good coat, so adjust as needed there. Cover and refrigerate.

Take a 28 oz can of diced tomatoes and drain, then squeeze thoroughly to remove as much liquid as possible. Set aside.

In a dry pan (preferably the pot you’re going to use), toast 1 tsp whole cumin, 1 tsp whole coriander, and 1 tsp whole fennel seed. Once it begins to be fragrant, add to a spice grinder and grind them. Set aside.

In a skillet, melt 5 tbsp butter. It’s traditional to use ghee, but I didn’t want to take the time to make it, so I just waited until the water had cooked out. Next, add 1 whole star anise, 2 small cinnamon sticks, 8 whole cardamom pods, and 6 whole cloves. Saute for about 2 minutes until fragrant.

Leave the whole spices in, and add 1 medium onion that has been finely chopped. It’s important to make the slices of relatively even thickness, so they brown uniformly. Saute until brown. Add 1 tbsp ginger paste, 1 tbsp garlic paste. Add diced tomatoes, and saute until well mixed with the onions.

Add the marinated chicken, season with additional 3/4 tsp red chile powder, 3/4 tsp turmeric, and the reserved ground spices from earlier. Mix well and try to layer the chicken evenly. Cover and allow to cook on medium heat for about 15 minutes. Stir, and then cook for another 10 minutes until the chicken is completely cooked.

Drain the rice and add it to the chicken. Add enough chicken stock to just cover the existing ingredients. This amount will vary depending on how much liquid comes from your other ingredients.

Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and without uncovering, allow to sit for an additional 20 minutes.


On Chicken Sandwiches and the Freedoms of American Citizens

So for what it’s worth here, I’m going to take a stance on a volatile issue – full well knowing a great many of my Facebook friends disagree with me. First, and most importantly, who am I to tell a gay or lesbian couple that they can’t marry? I have friends and family who are gay and lesbian – but in my mind they aren’t in those categories – they’re my friends and my family. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – governments should not make laws that limit the freedoms of it’s citizens – especially when those laws target a specific subset of the citizenry. It’s wrong, plain and simple. If you disagree with that on religious grounds – you’ve got that right. And frankly, your church has the right not to recognize or perform that ceremony. That’s their right as well. The heart of the issue here is that like we have done to so many other subsets of our citizenry in the past – we are discriminating against this one population. That must end and thinking must change.

Now, on to this business about chicken sandwiches and Chick Fil A. I think the real problem here is that corporations have no place in the public arena. If you disagree with me, fine. I don’t really care. I say that the weight of your political voice should not be directly proportional to the size of your fortune. But that’s another issue.

What bothers me so much is the outpouring of “support” for Chick Fil A. I’m sorry, but when one group of Americans show up in droves to tell another group “We don’t like you, we don’t value you, we’d rather you just go away and not come back,” that’s hateful. What bothers me is that those people standing in line for hours to buy a chicken sandwich see themselves as some sort of righteous crusaders. Standing in line for hours to buy fast food, of which probably $0.00001 will go to groups that actively seek to do away with the precious few rights and protections in our laws that have been afforded to gay and lesbian Americans.

As for me? I’ve decided fast food is bad for me, so I’m boycotting all fast food restaurants and avoiding national chains when possible (except for the Waffle House, because the Waffle House is awesome). And while I’m not specifically “boycotting” Chick Fil A per se, as long as the public perceives a visit to Chick Fil A as a stand against the rights of gay and lesbian Americans, then I cannot in good conscience visit that establishment. It’s unfortunate, because they are one of the few businesses that seems to put forth a good product but has also spent the time to train their employees to treat the customer with respect and make them feel valued.

Kind of ironic, isn’t it?

10 years

My mind is filled with the events of that horrible day. I listened on the radio all day, but the first images I saw were when I walked next door to little pigs BBQ for lunch and saw the images on the tv. I remember that in the ticker on CNN was the first time I had heard of al Qaeda or Osama bin laden.

It was days before the radio station started playing music again. The first song I heard after 2 or 3 days of nonstop news coverage was “bring on the rain.” seemed appropriate.

I called my wife and asked her if she knew what was going on. She said no, so I said “turn on the tv now.”

Later in the day I called my mom who was in illinois. She said my brother had also called to make sure she was ok.

I remember seeing on the news ticker that Anderson school districts were on lockdown. The next year I would start teaching there and am now friends with some of those teachers who had to guide children through that day.

Everything changed. The world is a darker place now.

I want to write down these little things now while I can still remember them. I wonder how many thing I’ve forgotten already.

Changing Direction

In two days, Southwood Middle School, the place that brought me back into public education and served as a source of constancy for me over the past nine years will be closing its doors forever. The building will be renovated and another faculty will come in and open a new school there, but those of us who taught at Southwood will be moving to an entirely new building to begin an entirely new school. My life has changed so profoundly over the past nine years, that I’ve really felt the need for some type of reflection. I think this is about as good an outlet as any.

When I started as the band and strings director in the fall of 2002, I was still pretty green. Even though I’d had a year and a half of teaching experience prior and a year of non-teaching work experience since then, two and half years out of undergraduate school, I hadn’t actually done the job that I thought I was preparing for. I had no idea what I was in for over the next nine years of my life.

In the time since then, I have had three beautiful, healthy children. My wife joined the National Guard. I finished my masters degree in music education – one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I began pursuing a PhD in music education and had to learn that one could not have a family, a full time job, and pursue a doctoral degree and succeed at all three. I was actually doing quite well in graduate school – making better grades than I ever did in undergraduate. I found myself opening my mind to new ideas and expanding my horizons . . . but to what end? Over time, I realized that for me, the career goals I had set were just not consistent with my desire to be a part of my family and the financial realities of the economic times in which we currently live. Slowly, I began to change directions in many areas of my life.

Fast forward to present day and I now find myself not teaching music at all and instead teaching middle school technology courses – how to use computers intelligently and effectively. Next year, I’ll even be teaching a web design and intro to programming course. It should be interesting, to say the least.

So what has changed?

I’m a father of 3.
I’m a seasoned educator.
I’m a technology educator, not a music educator.
I’m a far more open minded person than I used to be.
I’m no longer invincible. I realize that I never was, but it was really cool believing it while it lasted.
When we close Southwood in just a day and a half, a part of me will always stay with it. My life has changed so drastically during my tenure there, that I think part of me will always identify with it. As for the rest of my life, I hope I can be as optimistic about my own life as what will be following Southwood. We’ll be moving to Robert Anderson Middle School – a brand new school in a brand new building with endless possibilities.

I can only wonder what will be on my mind as I look back over my life when the next nine years has passed. What possibilities now lie ahead?


About two years ago, I decided that I was going to embark upon a culinary adventure. I wanted to perfect the biscuit. A few years earlier, my sister-in-law had purchased me Alton Brown’s baking book for Christmas (a great gift, btw – Thanks again, Becky). In it, he talked about how he went through this arduous process of trying a million different biscuit recipes and finally arriving at a conclusion. I didn’t do so well when making what he called his favorite biscuit. I decided to start at the very simplest recipe (on the back of the White Lily flour bag) and go from there.

Over the course of that time (around 2 years or so), I experimented with many different ingredients and techniques. With confidence, I can say that both ingredients and technique are extremely important. You cannot divorce the two (as one of my graduate school professors liked to say).


I’ll probably never be able to completely resist the temptation to tinker with the recipe, but here it is as I make it right now.

  • 20 oz White Lily All Purpose Flour (yep, you’ve got to weigh it)
  • 8 teaspoons Clabber Girl Baking Powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (needs to be less than 6 months old)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (I prefer kosher, but have used plain table salt with no difference)

Mix these dry ingredients together in a large bowl. No, I will not tell you how much 20 oz is in volume. If you want to get this right, you’re going to have to weigh it. Just mix it up with your hands or a large wooden spoon.

Now, add in

  • 4 tablespoons lard (There can be no substitute. Don’t even try it.)
  • 4 tablespoons butter (I’ve come back around on this one. Real butter reigns supreme).

With your fingers, cut the solid (hopefully very cold) fats into the dry mixture. You need to keep working it until you have a fairly fine, mealy texture. I find it helpful to first toss the tablespoon size chunks in the flour and then start breaking them up one at at a time. Once they’re broken down into smaller, I just start squishing it all with my fingers. I’ve tried this in a mixer, with a pastry cutting tool, and many other ways. Without a doubt, using your fingers is the easiest way to do this.

Now, in a separate bowl mix together the following:

  • 2 cups buttermilk (the full fat stuff, not low fat or nonfat)
  • 1 egg, beaten (unorthodox, I know, but trust me, this makes a huge difference)

Using an egg gives a little more structure to the biscuit. Without it, you’ll find that they taste great, but tend to crumble apart too easily. The egg acts as a culinary glue that binds it all together. I haven’t tried it with 2 yet, I suspect it would be too much – but I’m not opposed to trying it out.

Once the egg is thoroughly beaten into the buttermilk, add the wet mixture into the dry. With your hands, mix the two together. I suppose you could use a wooden spoon, but somehow I still think using your hands is easier. I would not recommend using a mixer for this. A mixer will be too rough with the dough. Biscuit dough is very delicate. If you handle it too much, the biscuits will be tough.

This produces a very wet dough. Sprinkle a coating of AP flour onto the top of the dough, then gently dump the dough onto a well-floured surface. Sprinkle a bit more flour on it now that it’s on there counter. Gently knead it just a few times until it just starts to hold together. Don’t overdo it.

Next, by hand, flatten the dough out until it’s about a half inch in height. Then, use a biscuit cutter to cut out the rounds. Be sure to use a cutter with a fairly sharp edge and don’t forget to dip it in flour before each cut.

Place the biscuits on a half sheet pan that had been lined with parchment paper. Dock each biscuit by lightly pressing your thumb into the middle of each biscuit, leaving a small dent ion each one.

Place the sheet pan in a 450 degree oven and check after 12 minutes. They’ll likely be done in 15. After removing from the oven, brush with melted butter (salted, real butter only, please). I know 450 sounds high for something like biscuits, but it works. I think it’s the fact that it’s such a wet dough that makes the higher temp work.

This recipe tends to make 15-20 biscuits for me, but that all depends on how efficient you are with rolling out the dough and what size biscuit cutter you use (I think mine is 2.5 inches).

I really enjoy biscuit making now. It’s funny how so many people are afraid of trying to make them, but I really enjoy it. I find it’s one of my go-to recipes that I’m confident will always turn out just fine.

Give it a shot and let me know how it turns out for you.

Chicken and Dumplings

Several months ago, I got a craving for chicken and dumplings. My mom fixed it sometimes when we were a kid, but I don’t remember liking or disliking it. I was a pretty picky eater as a kid. Still, I remembered it being warm and creamy – no vegetables or anything chunky – just chicken and dumplings. That’s the ultimate comfort food for a picky eater/child.

While no longer a picky eater, I still wanted that simple back-to-basics approach to chicken and dumplings. Nothing fancy here. I did my usual thing and went to the Food Network website and did a recipe search. There were so many variations that it would make your head swim. I searched elsewhere and found the same.

Eventually, I tried a recipe, liked it, and modified it. I’ve now got it pretty close to perfection. Since recipes are meant to be shared, and there’s a very good chance that I’ll lose my piece of paper with all my notes on it, I’ll post my recipe here.

Chicken and Dumplings

Combine the following ingredients:

  • 270 grams White Lilly AP Flour (that’s about 2 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder (I like Clabber Girl the best)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Mix these together, then stir in about 10 oz of full fat buttermilk. I like the PET brand the best, though I haven’t tried the Mayfield brand. Usually 10 oz is enough, but it needs to be a fairly wet dough – a bit wetter than your average biscuit dough. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes (do not skip this step).

While the dough is resting, bring 6 cups of chicken stock to a boil.

Next, flour your rolling surface and gently roll out your dough until it’s about 1/4 inch thick. This doesn’t have to be precise, just try to make the dough a uniform thickness as much as possible.

Now, slice the dough into dumplings. I like to use my pizza cutter for this.

Add the dumplings to the boiling stock slowly. I use a spatula to transfer them over from the counter. The excess flour that you used to keep the dough from sticking to the counter will help thicken the sauce.

Once all the dumplings have been transferred in, add about 1/4 cup of heavy cream. I’ve never actually measured this, so give it your best guess.

Next, add in the cooked, shredded chicken. Stir it up, allow it to cook if you want it to thicken a bit, but chances are it’s already about right.

Serve up in bowls and top with fresh cracked pepper.