CFM Thoughts (1/29-2/4): Other Ships We Need to Build

Nephi and his brothers building a ship (from the Book of Mormon Stories Chapter 7)

This wasn’t my thought, but it was one that was shared in Sunday School last week that I thought was profound enough that I wanted to share it. We were discussing chapters 16-22 of 1 Nephi, which included part of the story of Lehi’s family building a ship to sail from the Arabian peninsula to the Americas. As an engineer with a manufacturing background, the thought of trying to build a ship capable of oceanic travel, with just one extended family and no infrastructure, out in the middle of nowhere is fascinating. I can get why when Nephi’s brothers heard what he was trying to do, they thought their brother had cracked.

But the comment that someone made is that the challenge most of us face in life isn’t building a physical ship to sail across the ocean, but building other types of ships, that frankly can seem just as daunting at times: building friendships, family relationships, and discipleship.

Given how flawed most of us are, and how imperfect our family or work relationships may seem at times, figuring out how to build them into something that can last is something that can seem like an impossible task. I think Nephi’s example of faith, prayer, and trusting that if the Lord asks us to do something that he can prepare the way are all relevant in our daily efforts to build these other types of ships.

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CFM Thoughts (1/15-1/21): The Iron Rod as a Via Ferrata

Lehi’s Dream by Steven Lloyd Neal

For my first Come Follow Me Thought, I wanted to share an idea I had that came out of a Sunday School discussion a few weeks ago, while we were discussing Lehi’s Vision of the Tree of Life from 1 Nephi 8. This was a fascinating vision the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi had, shortly after his family fled Jerusalem shortly before the Babylonian captivity. There are so many interesting lessons you can take from this vision, but I wanted to focus on one new idea I had that relates to one specific element of the vision — the “iron rod” that led along a strait and narrow path leading to the Tree of Life, which is a representation of the love of God.

During our lesson, one of the other members of the ward pointed out that the word used to describe the path isn’t straight with a -ght ending, but strait, which means something very different. Using Webster’s 1828 dictionary, strait means narrow, tight, difficult, confined, strict. As a noun, a strait is a narrow pass or passage, either on a mountain or ocean, between continents or other portions of land. I had heard this thought before, but as I was thinking of the strait and narrow path as being a winding, tight, and difficult path, I remembered a type of hiking trail I had learned about a few years ago called a Via Ferrata.

Via Ferratas

To paraphrase the Wikipedia article on the topic, Via Ferrata (which is Italian for something like Iron Path or Iron Way) is a type of protected hiking trail/climbing route that has metal cables, rungs, or rails anchored into the rock along the path. The anchored metal fixtures allow someone on the path to clip into them using a pair of leashes attached to their harness, which limit any falls that could happen. I found out about them while trying to plan a trip to Banff National Park in Canada. Here’s a few pictures to give you an idea of what I’m talking about:

Mt Norquay Via Ferrata at Banff National Park
Also from the Mt Norquay Via Ferrata
Via Ferrata in Switzerland (from the Wikipedia page on Via Ferratas)

The Iron Rod and Strait and Narrow Path as a Via Ferrata

Anyhow, I think a Via Ferrata is actually an amazingly good metaphor for the Iron Rod from Lehi’s Vision, which Nephi later explained was a symbol of the word of God:

  • Via ferratas allow you to safely travel what could otherwise be a very perilous path. Allowing even relatively less-skilled climbers to access places that would otherwise be unreachable.
  • Via ferratas provide their safety by being firmly anchored into the rock of the mountain.
  • While I wouldn’t recommend trying it, a Via ferrata could probably allow you to safely reach your destination even if you were caught in a sudden storm, fog, or were caught out after dark.
  • Using a Via Ferrata properly, you are always connected to the fixtures through at least one of your two leashes. To transition across say a cable anchor point, you unclip only one leash, and then reclip it on the other side of the anchor, and only then do you unclip the first. By always keeping at least one leash clipped to the fixture, you’re always protected from accidental falls.
  • While a Via Ferrata protects you from falling, you still have to keep going on your path in order to reach your destination.

I still have never had the chance yet to use a Via Ferrata in real life, but I hope to some day try the one of the ones in Banff. I’m a bit of a coward when it comes to heights, but there’s something reassuring about knowing that you’re being protected by a system that if you follow its rules and keep going, you know you’ll safely reach your destination. It’s hard to think of a more apt metaphor for the iron rod from Lehi’s vision.

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Come Follow Me Thoughts

My church has a program for church-supported, home-centered gospel study called Come Follow Me. We use it Sunday School at church, in Seminary on weekday mornings for the youth, and also in our home and personal gospel study. If you’re interested, you can find a link to the curriculum here. This year, we’re studying the Book of Mormon, but each year we alternate to a different one of our standard works of scriptures (last year was the New Testament, the year before that the Old Testament, and the year before that what we call the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price). As part of my study this year, I thought I would start a series of blog posts on thoughts I had from either my own studies, or from discussions we had as a family, at Sunday School, or elsewhere. Knowing how inconsistently I am at blogging, I don’t know how frequently I’ll do this, but I figured I’d give it a try.

Just as a reminder for those who’ve recently stumbled on this blog, this blog is focused on things related to my personal/family goals, recipes, religion, philosophy, and if I’m stupid enough I might get into politics and policy thoughts. I have two other blogs that are not dead yet — Selenian Boondocks, which is focused on space technology, policy, and business musings, and which has had a few cobloggers over the past 18yrs, and my Starbright Engineering blog, which is focused on professional writing related to topics such as satellite servicing, etc. As you can probably tell if you check them out, I don’t get a chance to write very frequently. I’m hoping that these CFM Thoughts blog posts can be short enough that I can do them more frequently.

Anyhow, wish me luck. Hopefully someone finds these interesting.

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High Altitude Chocolate Chip Cookies

After experimenting with several recipes for making good Chocolate Chip cookies at Denver altitude, I finally found one that gave the right texture and taste. A couple friends asked me to share the recipe, so I decided to write this up. For reference, you can find the original recipe, with more details, and suggestions on how to tweak other cookie recipes for high altitude here.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup Sugar
  • 3/4 cup Brown Sugar
  • 2 Eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp Vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda1
  • 3 cups All-purpose flour
  • 12 oz package of Chocolate Chips2

Directions:

  1. To have the butter properly softened and the eggs at room temperature, you’ll want to put them out on the counter at least an hour before starting to make the cookies3. This step is pretty important.
  2. Mix the butter and both types of sugar in a stand mixer, Bosch mixer, or mixing bowl, and keep mixing them until the butter and sugars are thoroughly mixed and creamy. Scrape the walls of the mixing bowl with a spatula.
  3. Add the eggs and mix until thoroughly combined. Scrape the walls of the mixing bowl again.
  4. Add the vanilla, baking soda, and 1 cup of the flour, and mix until well combined. Scrape the walls of the mixing bowl again.
  5. Add another ~1 and 1/2 cups of flour, and mix thoroughly. The dough will be pretty tough by this point, so you may want to switch to a dough hook, especially if you’re doing a double or triple batch.
  6. Test the batter at this point, scoop out a little dough and pinch it. It should squeeze easily but not stick to your fingers. If it’s still sticking, add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour, mix thoroughly, then try again. If necessary, keep adding flour 1-2 Tbsp at a time until it is the right consistency.
  7. Mix in the chocolate chips4.
  8. Chill the cookie dough in the fridge for at least 15-30min while preheating the oven to 375F. Between batches return the cookie dough to the fridge5.
  9. I scoop the cookies out using a 1 Tbsp measuring spoon, but heaping it up about double size (~2 Tbsp per cookie), and then rolling them into a ball. You can fit about 12 of these, evenly spaced, on a normal-sized cooking sheet. I tend to use an aluminum cooking sheet with a layer of parchment paper lining it.
  10. Cook for 9-12 minutes until the knobby parts of the cookie are starting to brown a little. The rest of the cookie might look undercooked, but it will keep cooking a bit after you remove it from the oven.
  11. Once it’s cooled down sufficiently, I then transfer the cookies to a wire cooling rack.

There are pictures an a lot more details and suggestions in the original recipe, but I wanted to provide simplified/concisified version here on the blog. Let me know if you have any comment/suggestions in the comment section.


  1. If you accidentally put in Baking Powder, it’s possible to salvage the recipe by adding 2-3x the amount of baking powder (reference). It won’t be as good, but is still decent. Don’t ask how I know. ↩︎
  2. I prefer semi-sweet mini chocolate chips, as it spreads the chocolate out more throughout the cookie. And 12oz works out to approximately 2 cups if you have a bigger package. ↩︎
  3. If you forget to put the butter and eggs out in advance, you can soften the butter using a microwave (say ~20s at 50% power) or putting it in a Ziploc baggy and immersing it a bowl with warm water. The eggs can also be warmed by putting them in a bowl with warm water. More suggestions are provided in the linked original recipe. ↩︎
  4. If you want to add other stuff like chopped nuts or coconut, this would be where you’d add them. My dad goes with chopped walnuts and dried coconut. ↩︎
  5. You don’t have to do this step, but I’ve noticed that by the time you’re done mixing, the butter in the cookies is getting pretty close to melting, and you end up getting harder, flatter cookies. Chilling the dough seems to make it stiffer, and the cookies end up being more chewy like I like them. ↩︎

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My 2024 Goals

Continuing another tradition, I’d like to post my 2024 goals, as a way to force some level of accountability. This year I didn’t set as many goals, and many of my goals are actually tied with helping others achieve their goals.

Spiritual Goals

I’ve had some success with spiritual goals that were very routine-based, like reading the scriptures cover to cover or going to the temple on a regular basis. They’ve been helpful, but I wanted to make things more meaningful this year.

  1. Return to the Philippines to participate in the Urdaneta Philippines Temple dedication: 14 years ago, the prophet announced they’d be building a temple within ~25 miles of three of the towns where I served in for half of my mission (Bayambang, Calasiao, and Binmaley). They finished construction late last year, and after a three week open-house period, they’ll be dedicating the temple on April 28th. I haven’t been able to make it back to the Philippines yet since returning home in 2002, and I’d love to go back and visit friends I haven’t seen in person for two decades. I’m not sure how I’ll be able to coordinate getting permission to participate in the dedication, but I think it’s an achievable and very worthwhile goal.
  2. Participate in gospel study daily, using the church’s Come Follow Me curriculum, marking all BofM passages that point to or testify of Christ, and all that discuss gospel principles or doctrines: This one is fairly specific, but is driven from something I noticed from the past two years. My goals of reading the books of scripture cover to cover ensured I was reading regularly, but I was almost never synced up with reading what my family was studying at home, my boys studying in seminary, and our ward studying at church. So this year, I want to stick to the church’s Come Follow Me curriculum, which is focused on the Book of Mormon this year, rather than just trying to read through at a steady pace. Also the marking of scriptures based on specific topics seemed like a way I’ve heard other people have gotten more out of study, so I wanted to try it.
  3. Help Jonny get his mission papers submitted: Getting his mission papers submitted this year was one of Jonny’s personal goals, and I wanted to assist him in doing so. He’s now about the age I was when I served, and he’s pretty excited about the opportunity.

Social Goals

I haven’t been as successful with my social goals, but I’m going to try again. Once again with things that are easily trackable, require consistent effort, and should be meaningful.

  1. Complete levels 1-5 in Pimsleur Spanish lessons: I was thinking about retrying my 2023 goal of visiting somewhere Spanish speaking for a weekend, but I thought this goal would also help ensure I get more comfortable speaking the language. The Pimsleur curriculum is primarily focused on guided conversation practice, and completing levels 1-5 (with ~30x 30min lessons per level) works out to ~75 hours of Spanish conversation, and will require me to complete at least ~3 lessons per week, so I’ll be doing the study pretty consistently. This goal seems both achievable, something somewhat challenging because it’ll take consistent effort over months, but also likely to make a difference in my confidence with the language. I’ll probably keep doing Duolingo study too, because that app is as addictive as crack, but may cut back a little on trying to stay at the top of the leaderboards.
  2. Invite neighbors, church friends, or other friends over for dinner at least 3x per quarter: This is similar to a goal I’ve had in the past, but with a little more increased frequency, and a slightly broader casting of the net. I’m also going to take better notes so I don’t lose track. To be clear, while I say dinner, it could be other meals, a party or other get-together, but something that we’re hosting at our place. I think this is a good way to get me out of my introverted little shell more often.

Physical Goals

Physical goals are ironically some of the ones I’ve had the most success with so far. This year’s goals are ones that will take consistent effort, but which I’m highly confident I can achieve. Since I may be done with both of these earlier in the year, I might decide to add a follow-on goal later.

  1. Help James and Peter prepare for the Bolder Boulder 10K and run it with both of them: Both Peter and Jamie set goals to run the Bolder Boulder 10K this year. Peter ran with me last year, and after the 9.5km point when I told him he could go ahead at his own pace, he left me in the dust. In spite of only joining me for one practice run. So I’m pretty confident he’ll do fine, but this year, I’m trying to help him train enough, and have things like a way of carrying his phone, so I can let him just run at his own pace, and really show us what he can do. Jamie just wants to be able to run the whole thing without stopping to walk, so I’m going to run with him at a nice steady pace. I’m not trying to set any new speed records, unless Jamie is up for it. Just maintaining the capability for myself, and helping them prove to themselves that they can do hard things too.
  2. Get back under 175lb by my birthday: I’ve never set an explicit weight loss goal before. In 2020, I just set the goal to use the Noom app for six months, and see where it got me. In the end, I got down to just under 170lb. Over the past three years, I’ve inched up a little, with my worst weigh-in after Christmas being up around 186lb. I know I can get back to 175lb without trying that hard, so long as I’m consistent, and it would help a lot of other things. Basically, I just have to try a little. And if I’m steadily exercising and prepping the boys for the Bolder Boulder, I have a feeling I’ll likely surpass this one by a decent margin. So while this is an easy one, it’s still worthwhile and meaningful.

Intellectual Goals

I decided to stop trying to set a blogging goal. I’ll either have time to rejuvenate that skill, or I won’t. I decided to focus my efforts a little differently this time.

  1. Learn how to use my Snapmaker 2.0’s rotary 4th axis, 40W laser, and dual-print head, and design and make at least two items using each process: as I mentioned elsewhere, I upgraded my Snapmaker Original to a 2.0 this last fall, right before I got laid off. During the two months I was freelance, I had a chance to start using the module, and made some parts using each of the three basic capabilities — single-nozzle FDM 3d printing, 10W laser cutting, and CNC routing. But I have a lot of other upgrades that I’ve either not tried at all, not figured out all the way, or barely started scratching the surface with them. I’m especially interested in seeing if I can figure out how to do color metal marking of Stainless with my 40W laser, and dual printing of a graphite or glass reinforced nylon with dissolveable support structures using the dual print head.
  2. Help teach each of my boys one or two skills that they want to learn: With my youngest three still in home school, and Jonny preparing for his mission, I wanted to work with each of them on one or two skills that they wanted to learn — either one I’m already good at, or one I’m learning with them.

Anyhow those are my goals for 2024. Do you have anything you want to try to achieve this year?

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Filed under Goal: Learning Spanish, Goals, Philippines, Uncategorized

2023 Goals Accountability: The Good, the Meh, and the Ugly

Following my tradition from last year, I wanted to share how I did with the 14 goals I set for myself. I had some success, some of which were very fun, some partial successes, and some goals I completely failed at.

The Good…

I had five goals that I succeeded at all the way:

  1. Physical Goal #1: Get to the point where I can jog a 10K: This was the first goal I completed, when Peter and I ran the Bolder Boulder on Memorial Day (5/29) last year. About a month earlier, I was starting to warm up, planning on doing the 10K at the end of the summer, when a friend who knew about my goal had asked me if I had ever run the Bolder Boulder. That race was only barely over a month later, and I wasn’t certain if I could get ready in time. But one of our investors at Gravitics had gone from being in shape for a 5K to running a marathon in only a month, so I figured getting ready for a 10K might be possible. I got a heart rate monitor watch so I could do the aerobic threshold running that a friend had told me would help me build my endurance the best, and then started running almost every day. In the end we did it, running the race non-stop. My time wasn’t amazing, right around 1hr 30min, but that was me running non-stop for 1hr and 30min! Anyhow, given that three years ago, I couldn’t make it a quarter way around a track without wheezing, I’m pretty proud of this one.
  2. Spiritual Goal #3: Attend the temple with Tiff at least once per quarter and with the boys at least once per quarter: I finished this one in late October on 10/26/2023, shortly after getting laid off by Gravitics. We had managed to go somewhat consistently, but once I was laid off, I started going more frequently. All told, it was also a great experience.
  3. Intellectual Goal #1: Cook at least one new recipe per month, with at least on recipe this year from each of the six inhabited continents: This was probably the funnest goal. Some of the non-international recipes weren’t particularly memorable, but it was fun trying out cuisine from all over the world. I’ve posted some of the recipes here like the Indian Butter Chicken and Naan, the Peruvian Pollo a la Brasa and Aji Verde Sauce, but we also did Ratatouille and Honey Garlic pork chops from Europe, Tourtière (a French Canadian meat pie), a spicy Kenyan Chicken Jollof Rice dish, and finished up by doing an Aussie Burger, complete with roasted beet root, and a New Zealand Jelly Slice for dessert on 12/15/2023. This was one of my more unusual goals from last year, but I’m glad that I chose it.
  4. Intellectual Goal #3: Finish at least two significant crafts projects (making things that involve multiple components that weren’t a premade set from someone else): I actually didn’t think I was going to make it, having not really done anything for this goal at all through the first ten months of the year, but I actually had three cool craft projects that I wrapped up in November/December. The first one I can’t show many pictures of because it was for work. But right before I got laid off by Gravitics, I had completed a major proposal effort, so I rewarded myself by buying a Snapmaker 2.0 3-in-1 3D printer, with a lot of upgrade modules. When I got laid off, I thought at first that maybe I should return the printer, but when I realized I had paid for it on my credit card, and if I returned it, I’d only get back about 2/3rd the price, and then have to keep paying for the other 1/3 without ever having used the machine, I decided to keep it. A few weeks later, a friend of mine whose startup was moving asked me if I still had the printer. Apparently their printer was already packed up, and they had a short-fuse project for a client that needed parts designed and 3d printed. In the end, I ended up making almost as much off of that project as I would have from two months at Gravitics, and ended up designing, and printing 9 parts (3 from PLA, but most of them from Nylon), and machining about another four pieces from G10 fiberglass boards. It wasn’t perfect, especially since I hadn’t had a chance to really dial in my printing parameters before jumping into it. But the client was able to assemble the system, and run the tests they needed, and I got to learn a lot about my printer. The other two projects were Christmas presents, one a drawing board for Jamie (that included a riveted on clipboard clip), and one a water color palette for Tiff (that we bonded in about two dozen metal water color pans). We finished this one on 12/23/2023.
  5. Spiritual Goal #1: Read the New Testament and Book of Mormon cover to cover: I finished this goal on 12/26/2023. This was probably my fourth time all the way through the New Testament, and probably my 34th or 35th time through the Book of Mormon in English.

Those were all the goals that I completed all the way. Many were fun adventures, others just the result of trying to be consistent. Now on to my partial successes…

…The Meh…

I had another six goals that I at least made headway on.

  1. Physical Goal #2: Finish getting my 5K race time down under 30min: Of my partial successes, this one was the one I came closest to achieving. In the fall, after we got back from summer vacation, I started training again for doing a 5K over Thanksgiving, using a training routine from my Polar Pacer heart-rate monitor watch. I figured that two months would give me enough time to get ready, and we decided to sign up for a race out in Springfield, OR again (the same place I ran my first real 5K race two or three years ago). In the end, I set a personal record, but missed my target with a time of 30min 26s. Given that any further 5Ks I ran would be at much higher altitude, and that the weather was rapidly shifting to winter, I realized I likely wouldn’t be able to get this goal completed this year. But I at least came pretty darned close. And a personal record is still a personal record.
  2. Social Goal #3: Invite neighbors or church friends over for dinner at least 2x per quarter: I didn’t keep good track of how often I had done this, so I don’t know for sure how well I did, but I think we only had people over maybe 5 or 6 times this year. Still likely better than if I hadn’t set the goal, so worth celebrating as a partial.
  3. Social Goal #1: Take Tiff on meaningful dates at least 1x/month: We had some good dates/activities this year, including a 20th anniversary trip to Hawaii in August. But once again, I didn’t keep close track of this goal, and am pretty sure I probably only had about 8-9 of the months where we went on at least one date, and I’m not sure if all of them were particularly meaningful.
  4. Family/Home Goal #1: Do at least two home or yard improvement mini-projects per month: I did do a lot of mini projects over the year, but probably nowhere close to 24 of them. And I didn’t keep close track of it. But some of the things we got done included setting up new shelves in the garage and basement, getting a food storage area setup downstairs, fixing two of our sofa chairs whose legs had broken, cutting down the brush around our back patio, weedwacking the 6ft tall weeds in our back yard, repairing my broken desk, and building out my home office. Not perfect, but there were definitely some wins in there.
  5. Physical Goal #3: Finish getting to the point where I can do all five Home Fitness bodyweight exercise sets at full reps, without having to take extra breaks in the middle: In 2022, I got a bodyweight exercise app that I started in on. By the start of 2023 I was just transitioning into doing the hardest of the three levels — Advanced, for all five types of exercise (Abs, Chest, Arms, Legs, and Shoulder/Back), but at around 1/2 of the reps they suggested per exercise. By the time I switched my focus in April to 10K training, I had gotten the Legs and Chest exercises to full reps, but with lots of breaks. I never really got back into this consistently enough to pick this up, and after the 5K, one of my shoulders was hurting in a way that I wasn’t sure doing a bunch of pushups was safe. So while I made some progress on this at the start of the year, I never finished this one all the way.
  6. Spiritual Goal #2: Do something meaningful for each ministering family at least 1x per quarter: I started off ok with this, but it tapered towards the end of the year, especially with how busy stuff got over the summer, lots of trips, then getting laid off. I don’t have great excuses on this one. I did some ministering, but only felt like I did much for one of the families.

At least in this case I made some effort towards achieving the goals, even if I didn’t succeed all the way. Without further ado, on to the last category, where I couldn’t even say that.

…The Ugly

I had three goals in this category, where I really feel like I didn’t make any real headway on them.

  1. Social Goal #1: Visit somewhere in Central or South America for at least a weekend, where I will have to speak Spanish: I’ve been teaching myself Spanish for about 8yrs now using Duolingo, and in 2022 I finished reading El Libro de Mormon in Spanish, cover to cover. But I still didn’t speak Spanish very well, so I wanted a goal to force me to learn how to speak Spanish. While I did do some work on Spanish speaking with a new app that was better optimized for teaching you to speak (Pimsleur), I never got far enough that I felt I could make the trip. I had been intending to visit a friend down in Equator for a weekend, but between my lack of preparation, and Tiff getting congestive heart failure, I decided to punt on this goal for this year.
  2. Family/Home Goal #2: Finish reading at least one book each on parenting for autistic and NLD kids: I did read like 2 or 3 chapters of NLD Super Stars, but that was about it.
  3. Intellectual Goal #2: Wrote at least two substantive (technology, policy, etc) blog posts series of at least three posts long each: I’m kind of embarrassed by this one. I used to be pretty prolific with Selenian Boondocks. But while I did write a few recipe blogs, and I think one opinion blog post, I don’t think I wrote a single substantive blog post last year. This is two years in a row that I’ve completely failed to resuscitate my blogging mojo.

Anyhow, that’s my report for 2023. Next up, tomorrow I hope to do a writeup on my 2024 goals, what I changed, and what I want to try that’s new. All told I’m still pretty happy at all of the full and partial successes, though some of the complete misses sting a little.

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Filed under Administrivia, Goal: International Recipes, Goal: Learning Spanish, Goals

Oven Roasted Peruvian Chicken (Pollo a la Brasa) and Green Sauce (Aji Verde) Recipes

This is a relatively simple recipe for some nearly authentic tasting Peruvian-style roasted chicken, and a slightly spicy green dipping sauce that goes really well with it. While authentic Pollo a la Brasa would be cooked on a rotisserie grill, this recipe is for oven baking. I based my recipe on this recipe, which includes some extra tips and a video, with some of the spice quantities nerfed slightly to placate picky eaters. This was my second set of international dishes I’ve been experimenting with as part of one of my 2023 annual goals of cooking new dishes from each of the inhabited continents.

Peruvian Chicken (Pollo a la Brasa) Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 6-8lb whole chicken
  • 6 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup lime juice (~2 limes)
  • 8-12 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp cumin
  • 4 tsp paprika
  • 4 tsp white sugar
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp oregano

Directions:

  1. Start by making sure the chicken is properly thawed in the fridge, if it was previously frozen. This should take ~24hrs per 5lb of chicken. Once thawed make sure to remove any giblets or other innards, make sure the chicken is patted dry with paper towels.
  2. Preheat the oven to 475F.
  3. Use your fingers to carefully separate the skin from the meat around each end of the opening, and place the chicken on a roasting pan rack.
  4. Mince the garlic, and in a small bowl, combine the olive oil, lime juice, garlic, kosher salt, paprika, white sugar, black pepper, and oregano.
  5. Spoon some of the spice mixture under the loosened chicken skin so it can be in direct contact with the meat. Also coat the outside of the chicken with the mixture, using a cooking brush. If you have chicken string, you can use it to tie the legs together, if desired. I would suggest orienting the bird with the breast facing upward.
  6. Once the oven is up to temperature, place the chicken in the oven and roast it at 475F for 20 minutes.
  7. After 20 minutes, use a baster to base the chicken with juices, while lowering the oven’s cooking temperature to 350F.
  8. Roast the chicken in the oven at 350F until it is at a safe temperature of at least 165F. For this sized bird, this should take approximately 1hr 15min. Baste the chicken every 20-30min during this time.
  9. Once the chicken is up to temperature, remove it from the oven, and let it rest for 10-15min before cutting/serving. It is best eaten hot with a side of the hot dipping sauce, and either roasted potatoes or homemade french fries.

If you have an air fryer large enough to roast a whole chicken, you can also cook it in the air fryer. In that case, I would put it in, with the breast side down initially, and roast it at 360F for 30min, basting it every 15min, flip it over to breast-side-up after 30min, and then roast it for another 20min at 360F, basting every 10min, and checking the final temperature to make sure it’s at least 165F. When cooked, the skin should be fairly dark in many spots, but not burned.

[Update 1/28/2024: At my brother, Jeremy’s recommendation, I tried making this using bone-in/skin-on chicken thigh pieces instead of a whole chicken, and it worked really well. It still tasted just as good, and cooked a lot faster. I used the same ~8lb of chicken, but didn’t try separating the skin to coat it with the marinade — I just dipped the pieces in the bowl to make sure they were thoroughly coated, then put on the baking sheet. I cooked the pieces at the same 475F for 20min, basted them with drippings, then put them back in for another 20min at 350F, and all but one of the pieces was clearly above the 165F threshold by that point. I think if I had spaced them out a bit more evenly, all of them would’ve been done by that point. So, it’s a little more Americanized than doing the whole bird, but has the same great taste, and a lot less time or work.]

Peruvian Green Dipping Sauce (Aji Verde)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (loosely packed) of fresh cilantro
  • 1-2 whole jalapeño peppers
  • 1/2 – 1 Tbsp aji amarillo paste
  • 2 Tbsp grated cojita cheese
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/8 tsp kosher salt

Directions:

  1. Puree all of the ingredients in a blender, and refrigerate until time to serve.

That’s literally it. Just toss it all in a blender, puree it, and then let it chill while the chicken cooks.

Notes:

  1. If you don’t live near a Latin American grocery store that carries the paste, you can buy Aji Amarillo paste on Amazon. Theoretically you could substitute a habañero pepper, but I haven’t tried that.
  2. If you can’t find cojita cheese, grated parmesan cheese can be used as a substitute.
  3. If you want a less spicy sauce, you can remove the seeds from the jalapeños before adding them in, and use the lower range of the amount of recommended peppers and aji amarillo paste.

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Naan Bread Recipe

This Naan Bread Recipe, based on this recipe by Becky Krystal is the perfect complement to my previous Instant Pot Butter Chicken recipe.

Servings: 6

Ingredients:

  • 3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1-1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • ~3/4 cup of warm water
  • Cooking spray oil
  • 1-2 Tbsp melted butter

Directions:

  1. Before you start, set the buttermilk out to allow it to warm up to room temperature.
  2. Mix the flour, baking powder, and kosher salt together in a large bowl.
  3. Pour the buttermilk over the top of the flour mixture, and quickly stir it in using a large spoon. The flour will still be fairly dry with some wet clumps.
  4. Stir in water, a few tablespoons at a time, stirring in with a spatula or wooden spoon. Continue stirring in water until the flour comes together to form a soft ball (should take ~3/4 cup). It should be soft and slightly sticky.
  5. Knead the dough by hand for 1-2 minutes, using the ball to pick up any dry flour in the bottom of the bowl. If it’s too sticky to handle, you can use some flour to dust your hands.
  6. Spray a baking sheet with the spray oil, then divide the dough into six equal portions. Roll each portion into a round ball, and place on baking sheet.
  7. Melt the butter, and then coat each of the round dough balls with butter.
  8. Cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. The dough needs to rest, but won’t rise much.
  9. About 10 min before that 30 minutes is up, preheat a large cast-iron pan or skillet, a little below medium heat.
  10. Dust a work surface with some flour, and then take out one dough ball (leaving the others covered with plastic wrap), touch both sides of the dough ball to the floured surface to get flour on both sides of the ball. Then roll it out with a lightly-floured rolling pin, until it is approximately 8-9 inch diameter and roughly circular. You can rotate the dough by 90 degrees with each rolling motion, to make it roughly even. But the shape doesn’t need to be perfectly round.
  11. Once the skillet is hot, add the first portion of flattened dough. Cook for 1-3 minutes, uncovered, until lots of bubbles have appeared and the bottom surface is dry and has lots of brown spots.
  12. Flip the dough over with tongs, and then cook it covered for another two minutes until there are plenty of dark, almost charred spots on the top and bottom of the naan bread. You may need to lower temperatures to reduce charring.
  13. While the first naan bread piece is cooking, roll out the next piece, and then repeat steps 10-13 until all six are cooked.
  14. You can brush the cooked naan with more of the melted butter if you have leftovers from brushing the dough balls in step 7. If you’re really fancy, you could mix in some minced garlic with the butter to brush the cooked Naan with to make a garlic naan.

Serve this with the previously mentioned Instant Pot butter chicken and cooked Basmati Rice for a nice Indian-style dinner that is relatively easy to cook, and really tasty. I don’t do a lot of breads or baking, and this recipe is pretty forgiving.

This is the second of my international recipes that I’ve been trying out as part of one of my annual goals for 2023, to try out recipes from each of the inhabited continents.

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Instant Pot Butter Chicken with Potatoes and Peas

As part of my goal this year to cook new international dishes, I wanted to share this is a great and fairly simple Indian butter chicken recipe. It is based on a recipe recommended by someone I follow on Twitter, but with a minor tweak to the amount of Cayenne Pepper, and added potatoes and peas.

Servings: 8-12

Ingredients:

  • 28oz can of Diced Tomatoes
  • 10-12 cloves Minced Garlic
  • 3-4 tsp Minced Ginger
  • 2 tsp Turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • 2 tsp Smoked Paprika
  • 2 tsp Kosher Salt
  • 4 tsp Garam Masala
  • 2 tsp Ground Cumin
  • 3-5 lb Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs
  • 8oz Butter
  • 1 cup Heavy Cream
  • 1/2 cup Chopped Cilantro
  • 1-2 lb potatoes
  • 1-2 cups Green Peas

Directions:

  1. Add the Tomatoes, Minced Garlic, Minced Ginger, Turmeric, Cayanne Pepper, Smoked Paprika, Kosher Salt, half of the Garam Masala (2 tsp), and Ground Cumin to the Instant Pot, stir thoroughly.
  2. Rinse and cut the Potatoes into large chunks — 1 inch cubes or bigger, and add them to the mixed tomatoes and spices. Add the chicken pieces over the top of the tomatoes, spices, and potatoes.
  3. Turn the Instant Pot on to it’s Pressure Cook setting, with a timer set for 10 minutes on High.
  4. If you want to serve this on rice, you can start the rice at about this point. I’d recommend 2-3 cups of either Jasmine or Basmati rice to go with this much butter chicken.
  5. Once the Instant Pot pressure cooking cycle is complete, let the Instant Pot naturally vent for 10 minutes, and then manually release the rest of the pressure.
  6. Remove the chicken pieces using a pair of tongs. If desired, cut the chicken into chunks of similar size to the potatoes. Set the cut chicken aside.
  7. Remove the potatoes from the Instant Pot using tongs, and put them with the cut chicken pieces.
  8. Take the sauce from the Instant Pot and puree it in a blender or using an immersion blender. Return the pureed sauce to the Instant Pot, and add in the Butter, sliced into thin slices to melt easier. Once the butter has melted in, add the Heavy Cream, the other half of the Garam Masala (2 tsp), the Chopped Cilantro, and the Peas.
  9. Mix together thoroughly, and add the chicken and potatoes back in. If necessary reheat for 3-5 min using the Instant Pot sauté function.

The amount of chicken, potatoes, and peas to add is up to you. The original recipe would have only called for 2lb of chicken, and separating half of the sauce, but by adding in potatoes, peas, and extra chicken, the amount of sauce seems about right. I used frozen peas and thawed chicken, though apparently you can use frozen chicken too. Depending on how much chicken you put in, you may want to add in a little extra salt. And finally, if you’re dairy free, you can substitute coconut oil and full-fat coconut milk in place of Butter and Heavy Cream.

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2023 Goals

Ok, after my previous post looking back at how I did on goals in 2022, I’ve created some updated goals for 2023, including rolling over a few from last year that were worth keeping. I added an extra category for house and family related goals.

Physical

  1. Get to the point where I can jog a 10K: I can jog a 5K, but getting to the point where I can do a 10K should help build endurance, and will require me pushing on improving my aerobic threshold, which frankly should help a lot of other health goals.
  2. Finish getting my 5k race time down under 30min: I made progress on this last year, but still have a bit to go. This one is synergistic with my first goal, since improving my aerobic threshold (which is almost certainly a must if I want to jog a 10K) should also help me speed up my 5K time.
  3. Finish getting to the point where I can do all five Home Fitness body weight exercise sets, on the Advanced level, at full reps, and without having to take extra breaks in the middle: I made good progress on the goal of getting to full reps last year (I was at 2/3s of full reps on all but one of the five categories), but still have to take a lot of extra or extended breaks. I think this is achievable, but also meaningful.

Intellectual

  1. Cook at least one new recipe per month, with at least one recipe this year from each of the six inhabited continents: I like cooking, and I like trying out new recipes. So, this should be a fun goal, that will hopefully force me to explore recipe areas I haven’t really thought of before. For the recipes I like, I may even post them here on Taong Boondocks.
  2. Write at least two substantiative (technology, policy, etc) blog post series of at least three posts long each: I’ve been struggling with my blogging goals for the past several years. I think that by putting it in the case of finishing two blog series, it will help improve my odds of getting things done. The first series I’m hoping to finish is my one on space environmental management policy, technology, and economics that I started on my Starbright Engineering blog.
  3. Finish at least two significant crafts projects (making things that involve multiple components, that weren’t a premade set from someone else): I have a fun Snapmaker Original 3-in-1 3d printer/laser cutter/CNC router setup, and it would be fun to actually use it to make something useful. Whether that’s something that can become a Christmas present, something cool to decorate my office, or something useful for the house, or even something work related, I’d like to get more experience working through hands-on projects.

Spiritual

  1. Read the New Testament (including Joseph Smith – Matthew) cover to cover: My church is studying the New Testament this year, and while I’ve read it cover to cover more than the Old Testament (at least two or three times), I figured this would be a good scripture study goal for the year. This will be less of a slog than finishing the Old Testament. It looks like 1pg per weekday plus 2 pages per weekend day should get me there. I’ll probably also try to do the Book of Mormon cover to cover again in parallel, like I did last year while I was reading the Old Testament.
  2. Do something meaningful for each ministering family at least once per quarter: I’m keeping this goal from last year. I did decently with it, but it’s also a good goal to work on improving over time.
  3. Attend the temple with Tiff at least once per quarter, and with the boys at least once per quarter: This one ties in with goals that Tiff and the boys set, so hopefully will be more self-reinforcing.

Social

  1. Visit somewhere in Central or South America for at least a weekend, where I will have to speak Spanish: I swapped this out last year for giving a talk in Spanish, but I wanted to put it back on my goal list for this year. I have two really promising opportunities — one I have a friend whose job is moving him to Quito, Ecuador for two years, starting this summer. Visiting him would be a lot of fun, and frankly Quito has always been a place I wanted to visit. The other option is the homeschool co-op my boys went to for several years would do service trips to a village in Guatemala every few years, I think there’s a chance 2023 was supposed to be their next trip. In both cases, by leveraging friends, it may make the logistics easier, and make it more likely I can do this, have fun, and stay safe in the process.
  2. Take Tiff on meaningful dates at least once per month: Renewing this goal from last year. It’s not super ambitious, but it’s a good thing to maintain or try to exceed.
  3. Invite neighbors or church friends over to dinner at least twice per quarter: My parents used to be really good at inviting friends over for dinner on a regular basis. With the pandemic and the move, we got out of the habit, but I’d like to get back into the habit. And would particularly like to use this as a way to build friendships with some of our neighbors and church friends.

Family/Home

  1. Do at least two home or yard improvement mini-projects per month: I’m defining mini-projects very loosely. This could be as simple as mounting some wall lamps or shelves, cutting down and tossing out the branches from one of the dead bushes in the back yard, mounting the whiteboard in my office, etc. Keep it simple, but try to make steady progress on making the house nicer./
  2. Finish reading at least one book each on parenting for two of my boys’ specific learning disorders: A few of my boys have some mild learning disorders. I got a few books last year to get advice on how to do a better job supporting them as a parent, and though I made a few chapters headway into one of them, I’d like to finish at least two of them this year. Doesn’t seem impossible, and should hopefully help us better navigate those challenges.

Anyhow, those are the goals. I try to review them semi-regularly, and may update some of them over time based on changing life situations. But I wanted to put those out there for accountability sake.

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