No-Numbers Chili

Pot of chili

I’ve been on an extended hiatus from writing. I’m getting ready to start again, so I’m dipping my toe back in the water with something easy and fun — recipes.

I love this recipe. It has no numbers in it — at all. No quantities, no temperatures, no cooking times.

For cooks who prefer more guidance in their recipes, I promise I’ll have those later. But I know some cooks will love the flexibility of this one.

The most important part of this recipe is the variety of peppers. Get as many kinds of fresh peppers as you can manage. If you don’t know which peppers are which, it’s pretty easy to look up. Get a variety of heat levels — some sweet, some medium, some hot. Don’t overdo it on the hot ones: a little goes a long way.

And I’m not kidding about gloves. WEAR GLOVES when chopping the peppers. I speak from sad experience. Recipe after the jump. Continue reading “No-Numbers Chili”

No-Numbers Chili

Variations on Chocolate Pie

chocolate pies

I’m committing to blogging every weekday in January: sometimes about big important topics, sometimes about small everyday ones. Today I’m blogging about chocolate pie.

Every year, usually during the holidays, people write or comment to tell me they’re making my chocolate pie. I can’t argue: my chocolate pie is ridiculously delicious and ridiculously easy. This holiday season, I did some new variations on the classic recipe. One of the nicer things about this recipe is that it’s easy to adjust for extra flavorings: the unbaked filling is yummy, you can eat it with a spoon if you don’t mind a bit of raw egg, so you can just keep tasting it until the pepper or cardamom or whatever is to your taste. (The basic recipe is at the end of this post: you can also find it here.)

Rosemary Almond Chocolate Pie. This was a big risk — I wasn’t at all sure how it would turn out, and it’s not adjustable the way the other variants are — but it’s been a big hit. The flavors are unexpected but delicious, and the rosemary makes it both sophisticated and Christmassy. (I don’t know why I think of rosemary as Christmassy, it grows like a weed in our backyard year-round, but there you have it.) Continue reading “Variations on Chocolate Pie”

Variations on Chocolate Pie

Taco Trucks, and Making America Great

In response to the dreaded spectre of taco trucks on every corner, Ingrid and I did our part this weekend, and visited one of our many local taco trucks. Hashtags: #ImWithTacos #TacoTrucksOnEveryCorner

Streatfood taco truck with Greta and Ingrid

Streatfood taco truck

Of course, there are other possibilities. There could be ramen trucks on every corner.

Streatfood ramen truck
Continue reading “Taco Trucks, and Making America Great”

Taco Trucks, and Making America Great

Frivolous Friday: A Big Pot of Mac and Cheese with Butternut Squash

many cheeses

A few weeks ago on Frivolous Friday, I posted about cooking up big pots of things and freezing them into little Tupperwares, as an efficient way to cook at home for one or two people. I promised recipes: here is one, with our modifications, mostly in the direction of making it easier.

We start with this recipe from Epicurious. A few modifications:

For this recipe, there is absolutely no reason to bake your own butternut squash. Frozen is fine. I’m a big fan of cooking fresh things, but I’m also a big fan of making things easy when the hard way doesn’t really add anything. In this case, frozen butternut squash is 100% fine: it’s not the dominant flavor, and it’s just going to get mixed up into the sauce so texture is a non-issue. And using frozen cuts a BIG chunk of time and hassle from the recipe. Microwave it so it’s warm when you mix it into the sauce.

In the Epicurious recipe, the proportions of sauce to pasta are WAAAAAAY off. The first time we made it, we ended up with cheesy soup with some pasta in it. The second time around, we doubled the amount of pasta, and it worked perfectly. (Actually, we doubled the recipe and quadrupled the pasta. When we make big pots of things, we do not kid around.)

The crispy Parmesan wheels are nice, and they’re not difficult to make, but they’re not necessary. Ditto the fried sage leaves, although we do still use chopped-up fresh sage. If you’re going to do just one of these, I’d suggest the fried sage leaves, since it’s nice to start the roux with sage-y butter. It’s also nice to grate a little Parm on top when you’re serving it, if you feel like it. Because cheese!

On the advice of the (we think) dyke at Rainbow Grocery, who was obsessed with mac and cheese and spent lots of time talking with us about it, we added Brie and Tallegio to the sauce. It was a nice flourish: it made it very creamy, and the Tallegio gave it a nice little bite. (The recipe can be a little unctuous, and the bite helps.) You don’t need much Tallegio or Brie, just enough to make it creamy and a little tangy without being too rich. Another bitey soft cheese would also work: we used Tallegio because it was on sale, and also the dyke at Rainbow Grocery recommended it, and she was cute and nice and seemed like she knew what she was talking about. Cheap Brie is fine: you’re not putting it on crackers and serving it to the Queen, you’re melting it into mac and cheese. We also substituted Gruyere for some of the Swiss. Yes, that meant we used five cheeses: Fontina, Swiss (Emmentaler, actually), Gruyere, Tallegio, and Brie. Six if you count the Parmesan. What’s your point? (This recipe calls for Fontina and Swiss as the bsae, which work well for us — but if you have cheeses you prefer for mac and cheese, go for it. It’s also fine to just use Fontina and Swiss: we did that the first time, and it was perfectly lovely.)

We’ve found that this recipe is well-served by including chopped-up green veggies of some kind. It makes it more vegetal and vegetally-varied, turns it into more of a full meal in one bowl, and again cuts into the rich unctuousness, which is delish but can be a little much. We’re still working out how to best do that: roasted asparagus worked well, blanched asparagus worked okay but got a little mushy on being re-heated. We’re also going to try peas, and probably cut-up leafy greens of some sort. (If you try this and it turns out well, let us know what you did!)

We added powdered mustard as well as cayenne, which also adds some bite, and apparently also helps melted cheese stay smooth and melty.

We really like a half-and-half mix of white pasta and whole wheat pasta. And we like penne, as it stands up well to being frozen and re-heated.

If you try this out with your own variants, let us know how it goes!

Frivolous Fridays are the Orbit bloggers’ excuse to post about fun things we care about that may not have serious implications for atheism or social justice. Any day is a good day to write about whatever the heck we’re interested in (hey, we put “culture” in our tagline for a reason), but we sometimes have a hard time giving ourselves permission to do that. This is our way of encouraging each other to take a break from serious topics and have some fun. Check out what some of the other Orbiters are doing!

Frivolous Friday: A Big Pot of Mac and Cheese with Butternut Squash

Susie Bright’s Ridiculously Easy, Amazingly Delicious Roasted Tomato Sauce (Repost)

Ingredients for roasted tomato sauce tomatoes red bell peppers garlic onions fresh basil fresh oregano

It’s tomato season, which means I’m making big batches of Susie Bright’s roasted tomato sauce. This recipe is amazingly delicious and ridiculously easy (about 10-15 minutes of prep depending on how much you’re making, plus blending at the end). And it freezes really well, so whenever it’s tomato season, we make giant batches of it and freeze it in Tupperwares for the winter. You know that children’s book, Frederic, about the mouse who sits around in the summer gathering words and colors and sun rays to store up for the winter? That’s what making this sauce feels like. When winter comes, and it’s been gray and cold and wet and dark for days on end, we stick some of this sauce in the microwave and put it on pasta, and it feels like pulling a bit of stored summer out of the freezer. And when we’re making it, it fills the house with this ambrosial tomato perfume. We mostly make this to freeze for the winter, but we can never resist eating some of it right away, warm out of the oven.

I want Susie to get the traffic, so I’m not going to repeat the basic recipe here — you have to go to her blog to get it. But I have a few modifications and finer points, and those I’ll tell you about. Continue reading “Susie Bright’s Ridiculously Easy, Amazingly Delicious Roasted Tomato Sauce (Repost)”

Susie Bright’s Ridiculously Easy, Amazingly Delicious Roasted Tomato Sauce (Repost)

Frivolous Friday: Big Pots Of Things, Frozen Into Little Tupperwares

roasting pan with tomatoes peppers onions and garlic

If you live alone or in a two-person household, the cost-benefit analysis of cooking at home can be challenging. Eating convenience food or takeout/ delivery every night can be expensive and not that good for you. But it can be hard to find the time and energy to cook a whole meal every night. That can be true for anyone, regardless of your household size — but when I was living alone, I always found it extra-hard to be motivated to cook, and it’s almost as hard with just two people.

There’s a trick Ingrid and I have been doing for several years now. It’s not like we made it up, a lot of people do this, but it took me a while to figure out, so I’m sharing it here.

We make giant pots of food, divvy it up into single- or double-serving Tupperwares, and freeze them.

You get the convenience of pre-packaged meals or takeout, with the cheapness and deliciousness and healthiness of home-cooked food. You get the pleasure of cooking at home, without the hassle of doing it every single freaking night. Plus you get to make your food exactly the way you want it. Want Old Bay in the split pea soup? Want lentil soup with stock from the Christmas roast? Going low-fat, low-carb, low-salt? Obsessed with cardamom and are putting it in everything? Knock yourself out!

To do this you need: Continue reading “Frivolous Friday: Big Pots Of Things, Frozen Into Little Tupperwares”

Frivolous Friday: Big Pots Of Things, Frozen Into Little Tupperwares

Frivolous Friday: Kale Salad That’s Actually Good

Dino kale in bunch

The trick is to massage the HELL out of it. You’re basically cooking it, only with citric acid instead of heat. Think of it as kale ceviche.

Kale salad is very trendy, or it was until ten minutes ago (Brussels sprouts seem to have taken its place). I’ve seen it on many a restaurant menu. And I’ve inevitably been disappointed when I order it — because nobody makes it as well as Ingrid.

Ingrid will tell you that I am not a fan of the dark leafy greens: I don’t like chard, mustard greens, collard greens, any of that (although I am fond of a spinach salad). But I not only eat kale salad — I enjoy it. I mean, yes, you have to put a bunch of crap in it, you have to fill it up with cheese and dried fruit and fresh fruit and nuts and seeds before I’ll say “Yes, that sounds delicious” — but do all that, and I will happily put it in my face.

There’s a trick to it, though. Here’s the recipe we’ve been using, given to us by our friend Lori. Serves two if it’s your dinner-in-one-bowl, more if it’s a side dish. Continue reading “Frivolous Friday: Kale Salad That’s Actually Good”

Frivolous Friday: Kale Salad That’s Actually Good

Frivolous Friday: Corn Salad

pile of corn on the cob

Frivolous Fridays are the Orbit bloggers’ excuse to post about fun things we care about that may not have serious implications for atheism or social justice. Any day is a good day to write about whatever the heck we’re interested in (hey, we put “culture” in our tagline for a reason), but we sometimes have a hard time giving ourselves permission to do that. This is our way of encouraging each other to take a break from serious topics and have some fun. Enjoy!

The Big Secret Doctors/ Lawyers/ Plumbers/ Astronauts/ Tree Surgeons/ Airline Pilots/ Truck Drivers/ Chefs Don’t Want You To Know About:

Corn can be eaten raw.

You can cut corn off the cob and put it in your face, without cooking it. It’s delicious.* Corn salad is a wonderful spring and summer dish: it can be a side dish, or if you put some protein in it, it can be a main course. The flavors are simple and delicious (assuming you’re in a place that gets good produce — I love California), and because they’re simple, you can add a bunch of stuff to it if you like, without the ingredients getting into an argument. It’s super-healthy, it’s not expensive, and it’s pretty quick and easy to make and clean up. Also, it’s good warm or cool, so it’s good for potlucks and picnics.

The basic version we’ve been doing is corn, tomatoes, and avocado, with oil and vinegar dressing. When we do it as a main course (it makes a great full meal in a bowl), we add cheese, smoked tofu, beans, nuts, pepitas, or any combination of the above. When we’re feeling fancy, we use fancy olive oil and vinegar (we used jalapeno olive oil and mango balsamic vinegar the other night — yum), or fancy cheese (smoked cheddar with black pepper made it super awesome). You can also put other veggies in it if you like: it might be really good with red bell pepper or grated carrot. Meat balls, fish balls, moth ball, cannonballs… sorry, my brain went on a tangent there. But it’s also really good just simple: corn, tomatoes, avocado, plain oil and vinegar, plain cheddar cheese.

If you’ve done this and have variations to suggest, or if you try it for the first time and have interesting experiences, please share!

* (Corn is also delicious cooked, of course: it’s a different flavor raw or cooked, somewhat dramatically. A little like carrots.)

Frivolous Friday: Corn Salad

Greta’s Amazing Chocolate Pie

pi plate
Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and the December holidays are coming up. So here is a recap of my renowned chocolate pie recipe!

This is a ridiculously easy, unbelievably delicious recipe for chocolate pie. And it’s not just me saying so: friends have been known to demand it for celebratory events, and will shed hot tears of bitter disappointment if it doesn’t appear at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. It’s very distinctive — most people who try it say they haven’t had anything else quite like it — and it’s one of those rare recipes that seems really elegant and like it would be really complicated, but in fact is absurdly simple. The pie crust is 9/10th of the work.

The recipe came from my mother, but I don’t know where she got it from. I’ve been making it for many years now, and have refined the recipe a bit over the years, mostly in the direction of using better ingredients. I did an experimental version for my birthday a couple of years ago (in addition to a classic version), which was a big hit, so I’m including that variation here as well.


1 single pie crust (this is an open-faced pie). More on pie crust in a moment.
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 Tbsp. evaporated milk
2 squares/ ounces baking chocolate (unsweetened)
Whipped cream (optional in theory, mandatory in my opinion)

A quick note on the baking chocolate: For the sweet love of Loki and all the gods in Valhalla, use Scharffen Berger’s if you possibly can, or some other seriously good baking chocolate. I made this pie for years using just regular baking chocolate from the supermarket, and it was perfectly yummy — but once I started using Scharffen Berger’s, it amped up from delicious to transcendent. I frankly don’t much care for Scharffen Berger’s eating chocolate, I think the mouth-feel is insufficiently creamy — but for cooking, their baking chocolate is beyond compare.

Bake the unfilled pie shell for 5-10 minutes at 450 degrees, until it’s starting to firm up a little but isn’t cooked through. Melt butter and chocolate in a saucepan. Add the other ingredients (minus the whipped cream) and mix; you can do this in the saucepan. (I add the eggs last, so the melted butter and chocolate have a chance to cool and the eggs don’t scramble.) Pour the filling into the pie shell. Bake for 30-40 minutes at 325 degrees, until the filling is set. (I usually test it at 30 minutes, but it usually still needs another 5-10 minutes. When it’s no longer jiggling in the middle, it’s done.)

That’s it.

No, really.

I told you. Ridiculously easy. Not counting the pie crust, the actual work you put into this pie takes about five minutes.

I always serve this with whipped cream, as the pie is intensely rich and dense, and I think the whipped cream gives it balance. But many people prefer it with the richness and denseness unadulterated, and scoff at the whipped cream as an unnecessary frill for lightweights. My advice: Make whipped cream available, and let your guests decide. (Don’t add too much sugar to the whipped cream; this pie is plenty sweet.)

EXPERIMENTAL CHOCOLATE PIE Continue reading “Greta’s Amazing Chocolate Pie”

Greta’s Amazing Chocolate Pie

Greta’s Perfect Cup of Decaf Coffee

coffee beans
I only ever drink decaf coffee. I’ve been off the hard stuff for many years now — it gives me bad mood swings — and with the meds I’m on now, I definitely can’t drink the hard stuff at all. But I still like the taste of coffee, and the aroma, and the ritual. And since I don’t ever drink the hard stuff, the small amount of caffeine that’s left in decaf does have a gentle stimulating effect that I enjoy and am attached to.

Alas, being a decaf-only drinker means that coffee in cafes is very hit-or-miss. Some cafes do decaf very well indeed (a shout-out to the decaf French roast at Philz); others either don’t know how to do it or don’t care. (Do not get me started on cafe snobbery about decaf.) So since I drink decaf coffee every day, I’ve learned to make it myself.

I’ve been refining my technique over the years, to get it exactly how I like it. And on the off-chance that there are other decaf drinkers out there, I thought I’d share with the rest of the class.

Note that this is made to my taste (obviously). I like my coffee quite strong, and I like it with cream and sugar. So this might not be your perfect cup of decaf coffee. But if you’re a decaf drinker and haven’t been happy about it, it’s probably worth a try.


12 fluid ounces filtered water. (If you have good tap water, filtered isn’t necessary — but if you have a water filter, there’s no reason not to use it.)
3 Tbsp. whole decaf coffee beans, French roast. (French roast is very important — possibly the most important feature of this process, except maybe the heavy cream. The most common way for decaf coffee to suck is for it to be sour. French roast is rarely sour. I use the fair-trade organic French roast beans they have at Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco, but other decaf French roasts are good, too.)
1 Tbsp whipping cream. (NOT half-and-half!!! Whipping cream! Heavy whipping cream. Strauss if I can get it, another brand if I can’t. In a pinch, when I’m out of cream, I have been known to use vanilla ice cream. In fact, I keep vanilla ice cream in the house just for this purpose.)
1 tsp. (packed) brown sugar.

French press coffee maker

Tea kettle.
French press coffee maker. (This is not absolutely 100% necessary: if you don’t have one, you don’t have to run out and buy one. At times when French press isn’t an option, I make drip coffee that I’m reasonably happy with. But I do prefer French press: it makes the coffee stronger and somehow more substantial.)
Coffee grinder.
Coffee cup (12 oz.).
Timer that will let you time in both minutes and seconds (I use the one on the microwave oven).


Grind beans for French press. With our coffee grinder, this means grinding for ten seconds. Yes, I time it — ten seconds is both longer and shorter than I think. If you don’t have French press instructions for your coffee grinder (what? you threw away the instructions for your coffee grinder?): A French press grind is coarser than a drip grind. (For drip coffee, we grind for twenty seconds.)

Put grounds into French press coffee maker.

Boil water. If possible, I actually try to heat the water to just below boiling, and take it off the stove right before the tea kettle starts to whistle. Coffee is supposed to be made with just-under-boiling water: boiling water will sour it. If I don’t successfully do this, though, it doesn’t matter hugely, because my next step is to:

Decant the water into the coffee cup, and THEN pour it into the French press coffee maker. This accomplishes two things: it brings the water temperature slightly down, and it warms the coffee cup.

Stir grounds into water, put top on French press coffee maker, and let steep for eight minutes. (Yes, eight minutes. I know most French press instructions say three to five minutes, but that doesn’t make it strong enough for me. And again: Yes, I time this.)

While coffee is steeping: Mix cream and sugar into a slurry in the coffee cup, and let sit. (The reasoning behind this: I find that if I stir the sugar into the coffee after I pour it, it tends to settle into the bottom of the cup. If I mix the cream and sugar ahead of time and give the sugar time to dilute into the cream, it mixes into the coffee better.) Stash cup in pantry so Comet can’t get at the cream.

While coffee is steeping, make breakfast (usually toasted bread and cheese, and a piece of fruit).

After eight minutes, press the French press filter. Re-stir cream-and-sugar slurry, as some sugar may have settled out. Pour coffee slowly into cup with cream-and-sugar, stirring briskly. (A brisk stir thoroughly mixes the cream-and-sugar into the coffee, and also aerates it slightly.) Do not pour all of the coffee — the French press method leaves a bit of sludge in the bottom of the coffee maker.

Yield: About 10 ounces of coffee. (You lose a little water in the process, mostly in the sludge.) That’s just about right for a 12-ounce coffee cup, with room for cream and room for the cup to not be full to the absolute brim.


Get a burr-style coffee grinder: apparently these grind the beans more evenly, thus creating less sludge.

Get one of those electric kettles that you can set to heat water to exactly the temperature you want. Or, alternately: Use an instant-read meat thermometer to measure the temperature of the water before pouring into the coffee grounds.

Aerate the coffee, by pouring it back and forth between two cups a few times after it’s brewed. They used to do this at Philz before they got so busy, and it does seem to make a difference — but not enough to be worth dirtying two cups every time I want coffee.


So if you have a coffee ritual — what is it? Decaf drinkers are especially encouraged to share.

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPG
Coming Out Atheist
why are you atheists so angry
Greta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

Greta’s Perfect Cup of Decaf Coffee