An Aspiring Writer's Blog Site

Other Things That I Think

Red Beans and Rice Recipe

Mardi Gras will be here in a little over a week. I’m not completely sure why Mardi Gras is celebrated, but it sure is fun to cook for the holiday. I’ve been cooking and improving upon this Red Beans and Rice recipe for the last 10 years. Not to toot my own trombone, but these beans kick butt. So, in honor of Mardi Gras, here is it is for you to enjoy!!

Note: Not the beans you will be cooking.

1 pound dried red beans
3 tablespoons bacon grease
½ stick butter
¼ cup chopped ham
1 medium onion, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 lb. andouille cut into 1 inch pieces
Smoked sausage cut into 1 inch pieces
1 ham hock
¾ tsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves
Four dashes of Tabasco hot sauce
Five dashes of Worcestershire sauce
Creole seasoning (or red pepper and black pepper) to taste
Salt
Pepper

Directions

Place beans in a large pot, cover with several inches of water. Let soak overnight. This cuts back on farting, so do us a favor and don’t skip this step. Drain and set aside.

In a large pot, heat the bacon grease and butter over medium high heat until melted. Add the ham, stir until the ham is slightly cooked (about 3-4 minutes)

Add the onions, celery, and bell peppers (aka the Trinity!) to the pot. Season with salt and pepper. Stir until vegetables are soft (about 4 minutes).

Add ham hocks, sausage, andouille, bay leaves, and thyme. Cook until ham hocks and sausage is brown (about 4 minutes). Your house will really start to smell good at this point.

Add the garlic (aka as the pope, because it looks like his funny hat!) and cook for 1 minute.

Add the beans.

Add water until everything is just covered. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered.

Add Tabasco Sauce, Worchestershire Sauce, and Creole seasoning.

Stir occasionally until the beans are tender and begin to thicken—about two hours. If beans become dry, add more water.

With the back of a spoon, mash about ¼ of the beans against the side of the pot. Continue to cook until the beans are tender and creamy—about 45 minutes.

Serve over rice. Eat with French bread and your favorite beer.


Good Movies

Kick Ass

What would happen if ordinary people tried to become superheroes? This is the premise of Kick Ass and it is one of the better movies I have seen in awhile. Based on a comic book, this is not your typical comic book movie. There’s a lot of great humor in this flick and it takes you in an unexpected direction. It also makes you think a little. Nicolas Cage does a great job in this title and keep an eye out for Chloe Moretz (Hit Girl). She steals the show. I predict this girl is going to be a hot ticket item in the years to come.

Rated R. Lots of violence, simulated sex, profanity.

 

Black Dynamite

Some friends of mine were talking about this one day at work and at first I thought it sounded pretty stupid. When I got the chance to watch it, though, I couldn’t help but watching it over and over again (too bad its off the streaming list on Netflix or I’d still be watching it). The premise of this story is that its basically a parody of the old 1970s blaxpoitation films. Black Dynamite, the lead character, is the badest black dude the world has ever imagined.  It is so f-n hilarious. You gotta check it out.

Rated R for profanity, violence, and simulated sex.

The Big Lebowski

It doesn’t get much better than a Cohen brother’s movie and this one is my favorite. Its one of those movies when you first watch it you kind of go “uhhh…” then you watch it again and you laugh your ass off. My wife used to watch this movie once a week. Great characters, wild plot. The premise: a stoner named Jeffrey Lebowski gets his rug soiled by thugs who confuse him for a millionaire with the same name. He then gets washed up in the most confusing events which includes a kidnapping, threats by nihilists, and occasional acid flashbacks. Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, and John Turturro star.

Rated R for lots (and lots) of profanity, brief nudity, some violence.


Do You Believe in Ghosts?

I recently took a job with the St. Augustine Lighthouse to give after hours Dark of the Moon tours. St. Augustine is filled with ghost stories and this is the Lighthouse version. SyFy’s Ghost Hunters call the Lighthouse the Mona Lisa for paranormal sightings. Local ghost guides tell me that most paranormal activity in the city takes place here or at the Castillo.

I actually find myself having some difficulty conducting these tours simply because I don’t believe in this stuff. However, I have to admit that the stories I hear coming from whom I would call rational people and some of the pictures I have seen taken by visitors makes me really say “hmmmm. . .”

So, what do you think? Do you believe in ghosts? Take a moment to share a paranormal experience or express how you feel its BS.

 

 

Florida Secret: St. Augustine

I’ve lived in Florida all my life. St. Augustine is a must see for anyone coming to Florida. I am now a resident of the city and could not be happier. I blog about the best places to visit on a regular bases here.

St. Augustine is the U.S.’s oldest city (yes, even older than Jamestown). It was founded by the Spanish in 1565 by Pedro Mendendez. It was the playground for the rich during the 1800s and included the likes of Henry Flagler, Mark Twain and Marjorie Kinnen Rawlings. Today its a bustling town known for its many historic attractions. Here’s just a few.

Castillo de San Marcos

This fort was built in the late 1600s and was used all the way up until the 20th century by the U.S. Military. The Seminole war chief, Osceola and Apaches were held here for a time. Its the oldest masonary fort in the U.S. They have costumed interpreters here reguarly. I totally dig this place, but my kids got kind of bored of it afterawhile.  I was dissapointed that they did. There were plenty of other kids there who liked it, though. My feeling is that it may not be much of a girl thing (I have two daughters). This place can get pretty busy. Students from all over Florida visit it throughout the school year. My wife got tired of all the kids (I didn’t mind so much, though).

http://www.nps.gov/casa/index.htm

St. George Street

This is the main drag through the downtown historic district. It has all kinds of shops, museums, restaurants, etc.  My family checked out the oldest school house and got some awesome pretzels at Der Pretzel Haus.  Whats even cooler about this place is that just a few blocks down from this historic walk is my family’s new house. Man, life doesn’t get much better than that. I’ll be sure to write more about this street when I get more of a chance to explore it.

St. Augustine Lighthouse

This has a special place in my heart because my wife is the Education coordinator here. This place has some of the most gorgeous grounds I’ve seen with canopy oaks and old brick buildings. I didn’t get to go up in the lighthouse because my youngest is to short to go up, but my oldest did. she thought it was pretty cool!  They also have some cool exhibits and the lightkeeper’s house is just a really cool building. This museum is also the home of LAMP–Northeast Florida’s archaology maritime program. The director there is a friend of mine.

http://www.staugustinelighthouse.com/

Ripley’s Believe it or Not

I suppose this is not really unique to St. Augustine (there’s one in Orlando), but its still a pretty cool place to go and see some really odd stuff (shrunken heads anyone?). My youngest got kind of freaked out at some of the scarier type exhibits, but overall we had fun. Its also a good place to get inside if its too hot or if the weather is bad. It was raining most of the time during our visit, so this was a good place to go. You can spend about an hour or two here–more if you want to look at every object Mr. Ripley collected. The building is really beautiful. It was built in the 1880s by William Warren, a partner in Standard Oil. It was later a hotel owned by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. There are many reports of it being haunted.

http://staugustine.ripleys.com/

 The Conch House

We went to several restaurants during our mini-vacation. This one stood out. Its right off of A1A just before you get to St. Augustine. They have tiki huts and a little live alligator exhibit. A Motel is attached to the restaurant. The food is excellent. My wife and I had their Shrimp and Smoked Bacon Cheese Grits. Delicious! We will defintely be going back to this place when we live in St. Augustine.

http://www.conch-house.com/


Florida Secret: DeLand, DeLeon Springs, Barberville

Here is certainly a trio of towns that many folks do not know about, even in Orlando, near where these locations are located.

These two towns are found just north of Orlando–about 30 minutes or so of downtown. Just go along I4 and take the highway 44 exit and follow it straight west into historic Deland. This place is simply gorgeous with its reconstructed main street filled with restaurants and little shops.

 

Follow Deland’s main street north and go past Stetson University and head into some pretty Florida countryside. Head northwest on highway 17 until you get to deLeon Springs State Park. This park is a cool little place where you can swim in the springs, go kayaking, take a boat ride, etc. The park is probably best known for its historic sugar mill. Guests can make their own pancakes there on a table that has a gridel built into it. It’s pretty awesome. Be sure to make reservations for this place, though, because it gets crowded in a hurry.

From DeLeon Springs, keep following 17 northwest until you get to Barberville. Its at the intersection of 17 and 40. There is a little stand there with a bunch of statues and knick-knacks for sale. Its pretty cool–check it out. Then go west on 40 about half a mile until you get to the pioneer settlement. I’ve been to many museums in my days and this one ranks up there as one of the coolest. Its not sophisticated–just straight up cool “stuff.” Its got this old huge old hospital, and a bunch of old houses including a house and church. I’d defintely call this place a well kept secret. Its very cool.


Florida Secret: Tarpon Springs

Here is a place that few in Florida know about: Tarpon Springs.

My wife and I have been visiting this lovely little community off and on for the last eight years. We recently got back from there for our ten year anniversary trip. It’s a little town north of Clearwater that was founded by Greek immigrants whose line of work was sponge diving. Today, Greek is still the main language of most residents there. This place is simply amazing. If you love Greek food, you aren’t going to get anything better outside of Greece. This place is the real deal. Their pastries are the best I’ve had–second to none. There are little shops all along the dock as well as boat tours and old-school aquatic shows (dolphin shows, feed the sharks, pet the stingrays etc.). I would recommend it for a half-day or day long trip. For Florida residents, it is well worth the trip. A+.

For food, there are so many options along the dock, but my wife and I love Mykonos. The prices are reasonable. There is often a short line to get in, but it is well worth the wait.

http://www.allmenus.com/fl/tarpon-springs/32805-mykonos/menu/

There are several good bakeries there. My wife and I typically go to Hellas.

http://www.hellas-restaurant.com/contact.htm


Virtual Mesopotamian Temple

For those of you who know me, you know I’m a big history nerd. Before I got into the gaming industry, I worked in the history museum field for eight years, primarily as an educator. The main reason I got into the gaming industry is because I see the potential of how video game technology and principles can be used to further history education. The first step into that world was a project I worked on a couple of years ago as a volunteer with the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). FAS was recreating a Mesopotamian city in the virtual world, Second Life and I volunteered to be the designer, project manager, and subject matter expert for the project. I took my experience and skills from my museum background, threw in a strong dose of video game know-how and volia, the City of Gilgamesh was born. The idea behind the project was to create a virtual living history museum (think Colonial Williamsburg in a virtual setting) complete with re-enactors as avatars dressed in period-type clothing. The cool thing about this project was that its intention was that visitors would have the opportunity to join in on the fun. They could dress up and role play along with the re-enactors. Fun way to learn, eh?  The educators that I met on Second Life went nuts for this idea. Unfortunately, FAS’s priorities shifted and the project came to an end. The concept still exisits, though. I am currently looking for partners to create another virtual living history museum.

Go ahead and bring this idea to its ultimate conclusion–a person could virtually visit any major place in history if enough of these types of museums are made. The good thing about it is that it is a lot less expensive than a real life living history museum or a video game. This idea has tremendous potential.

The temple can be seen in Second Life in the slurl below. You’ll need an account in Second Life to see it (its free!)

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/FAS/86/102/29

Here’s a few screens of the temple.

Outside the Principle Shrine. The city god’s resting place was inside.

The Temple Archives. Mesopotamians invented writing. The temple’s transactions were recorded on clay tablets and stored here.

The kitchen. The temple was the home of a god. They were served meals daily. What wasn’t eaten was consumed by the priest. Nice life, huh?

The weaver workshop. Textiles were the main export of Mesopotamia. Women were primarily employed in this role.

Inside the Principal Shrine. The idol is Inanna/Ishtar- the goddess of sexual love and war.

The temple was also featured as a way of understanding Islam using virtual worlds. I hadn’t thought of it like that, but the recreation of the temple is certainly a way for people to appreciate the history of the middle east (Mesopotamia is pretty much where modern Iraq is today). With all that is going on, its nice to be able to contribute in a small way.  Our segment starts at 1:30. I actually don’t know who the archaeolgist that is featured. I never met her before, but I suppose I should have. She was the consulting subject matter expert for FAS for Mesopotamia. Heh.

I also have a couple of papers I want to share. This one is a call-to-arms on why virtual living history museums would be effective ways to teach history, how they should be made, and what you can do with them. Check back soon for a paper on the  research behind the recreation.

 

 

Using History Museum and Video Game Principles to Teach History