Christmas Dinner Menu 2015

Christmas DinnerSince it is the Sunday before the big event, I thought I would discuss what I’m planning for Christmas dinner. I’ve reached the age where holidays are primarily a time for me to make a bunch of food for a bunch of people. The kids get cash because they don’t expect me to actually know what’s going on in their lives. And that’s all done, so I have only to prepare for dinner.

(Actually, the really hard thing is to get all my Frankly Curious writing done. Currently, I am two days ahead. But what with the other work that I need to do, and all the cooking I will need to do before, I figure I need to be four days ahead by Christmas eve. So if the work gets sloppy here, you’ll know why. I am planning some very pleasant diversions for those people who won’t be spending Christmas cooking.)

Main Course

I have strong opinions about the main course for holiday dinners. We are an extremely wealthy country. So I really don’t understand why people go with turkey for these meals. Hasn’t everyone noticed that turkey is just a big chicken, except that it doesn’t taste as good? I like to at least do a ham. And the ultimate is prime rib. It’s shocking that I get push-back on this, given that I’m more than willing to buy it myself. Anyway, I got my way this year, although I still haven’t figured out where I’m going to buy it — or how much.

Side Dishes

The main course is the easy part of a dinner. It’s the side dishes that are always a pain. That’s especially true for me because my default is to make way too many starches. This is because I love starches. But I know that people like variety. So I try to mix things up a little bit. Of course, that doesn’t mean that any of this is healthy. This is Christmas dinner, after all.


I have my two starch recipes that are hugely popular at every pot luck I go to. That’s not why I make them. I make them because they are hugely popular with me. The first is au gratin potatoes. And it is literally that. Well, I add one other thing. It is potatoes, onions, and cheese — repeated to the top of the casserole dish. And then I cook the hell out of it — normally for one hour the night before and then one hour on the day. It only gets better the more you cook it.

The other thing I make is Chef John’s Macaroni and Cheese. It’s unlike any macaroni and cheese I’ve ever had. It has a wonderfully complex taste. The only thing is that I don’t exactly follow the recipe anymore. I’m not quite certain what it is that I do differently. But it’s close enough. If you’ve never made it, it is worth checking out. You will never see macaroni and cheese the same way again.

Nominal Vegetable Dishes

By tradition, my sister makes a green bean casserole. But over the last year, I’ve been making it a lot myself. There are basically two ways to make it. There is the easy way, which depends on the fact that everything tastes good when you drown it canned cream of mushroom soup. When it comes to this method, Paula Deen really does have the best recipe. And then, there is the hard way, which requires making your own roux. Auriel at All Recipes has a very good recipe for that. Which one I make will depend upon how rushed I feel.

I don’t want to have a salad for Christmas dinner. Unless a salad can be its own course, it seems too much like something tacked on — saying penance for the delicious foods you are about to eat. I suspect I will, ultimately have to include a salad in all of this. But I’m planning as if I can avoid it. And I found a really interesting recipe, Grilled Corn Salad. But I’m definitely going to add some other stuff to it; I just haven’t decided yet.


I don’t bother much with appetizers. To me, it’s pretty simple: get a couple of good cheeses, apple wedges, some crackers, maybe grapes, salami — dump it on a tray and serve. But I know there will be shrimp, because there always is. Also, there will be Swedish meatballs. And my sister makes excellent deviled eggs. After that, there really won’t be any need for dinner. But we will do it nonetheless because there are just some things you have to do to live in a civilized society.

Kyle Kulinski and Boring Atheism

Mother GooseKyle Kulinski does a podcast called Secular Talk. Despite the fact that he seems so much like the Young Republicans who used to pepper the campus in my college days, he’s really good. And I generally agree with him, although he does often try too hard to balance things. For example, in the email battle between Sam Harris and Noam Chomsky, everything Kulinski said indicated that he believed that Sam Harris missed the whole point of the discussion. (Shocking that Sam Harris would be clueless, I know!) But he still tried to thread the needle and provide cover for Harris, who clearly doesn’t deserve that cover — even in Kulinski’s eyes.

Well, the other day, I was cooking — looking for something to listen to on the YouTube. And I came upon an interesting video with Stephen Fry talking about why he doesn’t believe in God, Stephen Fry Annihilates God. It was interesting, but nothing new: why is there evil in the world. This is such a common complaint that there is a word for the arguments to explain it: theodicy. I agree with Fry, “Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, and stupid god who creates a world which is so filled with injustice and pain?” Indeed. To put it in Dungeons & Dragons terms: why would I worship a god that is lawful-neutral at best?

“Religions are not true because of the metaphor behind them any more than Mother Goose is true because of the metaphor behind it.” —Kyle Kulinski

But you see, there is a problem there: Fry wasn’t making a case against the existence of God; he was making a case against God being worthy of worship. Russell Brand noticed the problem and created his own video, Is There A God? YES! Stephen Fry Proves It. Does Fry actual prove there is a god? Well, let’s just say that Brand could be given the middle name “Fire” and his name would fit him better. But he does make a number of good points.

Kulinski saw it and he wasn’t buying any of it. And I get that. When people like Brand start going on about consciousness and such, they are on very thin ice indeed. But when he quotes Terence McKenna, he’s on rather more solid ground, “Give us one free miracle, and we’ll explain the rest.” I wouldn’t put it like that, of course. But the niggling paradox persists: why does the universe exist? Intellectually, the question is a rat hole that doesn’t have an answer. It isn’t even a scientific question. At best, it is a mathematical one, which doesn’t bode well for a freestanding explanation.

So Kyle Kulinski beats on religion for a while. But he does so by arguing against the normal literalist view of religion. Brand had invoked Joseph Campbell by saying that all religions were true because they operated as metaphor. But Kulinski doesn’t seem to understand what that means. He said, “Religions are not true because of the metaphor behind them any more than Mother Goose is true because of the metaphor behind it.” Except, well, Mother Goose is true in that way. That’s why we still read and delight in the stories.

I find myself in a curious position. When it comes to this stuff, I’m much more in Kulinski’s camp. I don’t see how religion as metaphor saves it. That just allows people to think of morality and ontology in very simplistic, and often dangerous, ways. But Kyle Kulinski isn’t making that argument. In fact, he is making his own faith-based argument that science can explain everything. This is like saying that a hammer can fix any problem. When Brand claims that science can’t answer the “why” question, Kulinski says that it is a dogmatic claim. If it is, it comes from the practitioners of science itself. It is only quite recently that atheists decided that scientific understanding was limitless. Actual scientists understand that it is a tool (A great tool!) with very clear limits.

I would rather have a conversation with Russell Brand than with Kyle Kulinski. While Brand may be fuzzy about a lot of this stuff, he does understand the broader issues involved in these arguments. Kulinski doesn’t appear to understand these issues. And he seems strangely unaware of his own dogmatism. These place him entirely inside the mainstream of the modern atheist movement. Ultimately, it is just so boring! What does the atheist movement offer us? A closed mind on any questions that science is not designed to tackle? Atheism doesn’t have to be boring.

Morning Music: Feliz Navidad

Feliz NavidadToday, we listen to “Feliz Navidad” by José Feliciano of the album of the same name. There is something about both the artist and song that makes me think that I should hate them. Yet they are both great. He’s a wonderful musician, but it’s much more than that. He’s got an excellent musical sensibility. He’s able to create really engaging music without pandering. This explains his unique ability to cover songs in a way that is more compelling than the originals. I challenge anyone to find a better version of The Star-Spangled Banner. He’s also quite a good songwriter, although he isn’t focused on it. He did, however, write “Feliz Navidad.”

I just read that back in 2009, a couple of conservatives created a parody of the song called, The Illegal Alien Christmas Song. It’s a funny thing. If I didn’t know where the song came from, I would assume that it was making fun of conservatives. It does an excellent job of distilling what the Tea Party crowd thinks of matters related to immigrants. Of course, it doesn’t help that the parody is not very clever. Perhaps if the writers had been more clever, it would have been clearer just how vile they were.

Anyway, there is a live version of the song, but its sound quality is poor. So here is the album track with lyrics so you can sing along!

Anniversary Post: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) End

DADT Repeal

On this day five years ago, the United State officially lifted its “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy, allowing LGB personnel to serve opening in the military. And as we all know, it was a complete catastrophe. This is why we use so many drones. There is literally no human component left in the US military. Once service members found out there were gay people around them, they refused to take showers, leading to enemies being able to kill them all just based upon the smell. Oh, wait: that didn’t actually happen. Something much more amazing happened: nothing.

I guess to say it is amazing is wrong. There were basically two kinds of people with regard to the repeal of DADT. First, there were people who thought it wouldn’t create any problems at all. Second, there were people who knew it would never work; these people have since adjusted their position to claim that they never said it would be a big deal. This is a common strategy for people who refused to learn from their mistakes. They will continue to “know” all sorts of things that won’t be so. Right now, they “know” that if transgender people were in the military, it would be a catastrophe.

The weird thing is that DADT was never implemented in a way that made sense. A friend of mine published a cartoon at the time that indicated the way the program would work. There was a guy tied up and gagged with “DADT” written on him. One soldier was telling another, “I caught him singing an Ethel Merman tune in the shower!” That was pretty much it. So the policy seems to have been that as long as no one told the military that you were gay, you were safe.

At the same time, DADT systematized the procedures for throwing LGBT service members out of the military. And as a result, there were far more that were thrown out. Half measures are doomed to failure, but often they do exactly the opposite of what thread-the-need politicians like Bill Clinton intend.