Category: Life

Cook Like A Man with a Cast Iron Pan

Episode 2: The Manly Cooking Series (Episode 1: Gas is for Sissy’s: Steak Done Right)

I was turned on to cast iron by a kitchen store clerk when I told her my meats and veggies were not getting the caramelized brown and black-striped foodspotting look.  Her answer, cast iron.  American-made.  I left the store with a Lodge Cast Iron Reversible Griddle/Grill.  Lodge has been making cast iron pans in South Pittsburg,  Tennessee since 1896.  I couldn’t wait to throw some meat on this 10 pound beast.  My lamb chops cooked perfectly with beautiful restaurant-quality grill marks.  I finally earned my stripes.

I cook everything but fish on her because she doesn’t bathe with soap.  They call this a seasoned or oiled pan.  The flavor just gets better over time.  Lodge says that if you keep it dry and oiled, the pans will last for a 100 years.  Like a heirloom sourdough starter, families have been known to pass them down from generation to generation.

Fate had me part with my colorful french Le Creuset cookware and a Wolfe 9-burner gas range.  When I went to the store to get a new Le Creuset I realized how expensive they were compared  to the Lodge Dutch Oven.  In the left corner, Lodge $40 in utilitarian matte black.   In the right, Le Creuset , $240 in Hermes orange – she was hot.  Bonjour belle, voulez-vous [cook with me] ?   The Le Creuset is porcelain smooth with enamel inside and out.  She can be bathed with lemon scented Joy.    Some people claim that cast iron without enamel sticks.  However, there was a bigger danger lurking that would reveal itself when things got heated.  Frugality got the better of me, as did boy scout memories of baking biscuits on a dutch oven over a fire.  Le Creuset isn’t the camping type.  I bought American, Go Lodge!

Armed with my new Lodge 8 quart dutch oven, I began to make  the sauce for my signature dish, Arancini di riso (humblebrag ).  The heat was on low and I added the tomato sauce.   Plop. Plop.  Sauce exploded in every direction with tomato shrapnel spraying over 2 feet away.  As I went to put a lid on it, hot flying sauce hit me right in the eye.   Frick that hurt.  I really think I burnt my eyeball.  Who burns their eyeball cooking?  My sister tried not to laugh.  Her kids scrambled like brocoli just showed up.  Later I read that cast iron reacts to acidity.  Tomatoes are really red-colored blobs of ascorbic, citrus, and malic acid.  In  a thick french accent I heard, “fool, we told you dumb Americans you need enamel”.

After moving the remaining tomato sauce to another pan, I wasn’t going to quit on my Lodge — semper fi.  Since the recent emancipation of most of my cooking gear, I only had two pots to piss in.  I needed to cook the Risotto.  My coy Lodge glanced up at me.  I swept her off her feet and buttered her up.   The onions and garlic got wet and brown, the riso danced and skipped.   I added the first cup of broth and she held her heat like a champ.  I followed the careful tango of risotto al dente, backing off with broth until it begs for more:  stir, stir, stir, stir, stir, stir pour…stir, stir, stir, stir,stir, stir, pour..once cup at a time.  This felt really good, it was unprotected, we had no enamel.  Lodge rocked steady.  Her wide girth hid the ugly red face of my not-gas but electrical abomination of a range.

Cooking a elegant risotto with it’s pearly patina in a heavy cast iron pan felt like a unlikely pairing,  but it worked.   She cooks very evenly with no hot spots.  I thought I invented something new.  Google popped my genius bubble and found some Chowhound message boards talking about cooking risotto in cast iron.  There were also heated Lodge vs Le Creuset debates with dire warnings of cast iron reacting to acidic foods.

Last night I called up my pan with benefits to cook a simple risotto with just butter, onions, and garlic.  I was carbo-loading for a half-marathon today (humblebrag 2, one more and I’m out).  The risotto had a light smokey and nutty flavor, no doubt a gift from meals past.  It was delicious (brag 3, I’m out).

Le Creuset may have washed away her past and left me, but Lodge is mine forever.  Time only makes her better…with every savory memory  carried forward.

I’m a man and I cook with a cast iron pan.


Start-up lessons from some Tough Mudders

A few months ago, Media Piston founder Joe Heitzeberg and I had the crazy idea to assemble a team to run in last Saturday’s Tough Mudder race, an 11+ mile obstacle course designed by British Special Forces. (continue to the rest of the article published in Geekwire)

My friend and team mate David Niu also wrote this related article on recommended gear for a Tough Mudder event.  You don’t want to run the course like the guy in the above picture.

Here is a link to first obstacle course racing article I wrote for The Best Thing I Did This Year, “I Kicked A Guy In The Balls”.

Is Buddhism Energy Efficient?

ImageDisclaimer: I am  completely unqualified to discuss or share the tenants of Buddhism.  I wrote this to help force my own thinking.

I believe in karma where our intent and actions plant the seeds of a similar consequence as opposed to creating a boomerang of goodness that comes right back to you.   Bad things happen to good people.  A moral code that expects a return on good is a set up for failure.   Be good to be good.

Me thinks a good action creates positive energy that you may not directly benefit from, but the universe will.  Energy is dispersed, it can’t be controlled, but it isn’t lost.   The laws of cause and effect can only ensure that every action has a consequence.  Good and bad intentions create ripples.  The abused can become abusers or lead the fight against it, a good action may encourage another to play it forward or take it back.  Even if an action is the same, intent can also change the spin of the ball.  It starts in our minds first as energy which is transformed into action.  You feel the difference when someone thanks you out of gratefulness versus obligation.

Thinking about life as energy also helps me understand the Buddhist concept of reincarnation.  I never bought the notion of transformation from person to  cow.  That sucks. The reincarnation proposition also feels hopeless.  I am unlikely to attain nirvana and will be caught in an endless cycle of re-birth.    I don’t want to be a jellyfish again and if I was, that’s kind of cruel to make me figure out such heady concepts without a brain.

Thankfully one translation of the teachings of Buddha states:

“There is rebirth of character,
but no transmigration of a self.
Thy thought-forms reappear,
but there is no egoentity transferred.
The stanza uttered by a teacher
is reborn in the scholar who repeats the words.

“Only through ignorance and delusion do men indulge in the dream
that their souls are separate and self-existent entities”

There is no self or soul, only energy in the form of thought and intention, action with consequences.   My late grandmother isn’t jumping around the pond as a frog.  Her energy produced & influenced me, I in turn will do the same with others.  “The stanza uttered by a teacher is reborn in the scholar who repeats the words”.

Every day we are reborn with the chance to act with positive intention. We have the choice to make our energy positive or negative.  Like Ice Cube said, “it’s gonna be a good day“.

Location Bias: How To Fix Your Recruiting Problem

Blueseed will house tech talent in international waters near San Francisco to avoid immigration issues

If you go around and ask any growing Seattle area tech company what their biggest challenge is, I suspect that 100% will list hiring technical talent as one of their top problems.  Some companies are offering employees a $10k referral bonus and I received an email last week for a free dinner at El Gaucho just for introducing a candidate.  The problem is even more severe in the Bay Area.

Peter Thiel who founded PayPal and funded Facebook is building a boat filled with tech workers to work free and clear from immigration issues in international waters outside of the bay area.  When I first read about the re-purposed barge called Blueseed I thought the above photo was a photo-shopped hoax.  It’s not, they have already have over 900 entrepreneurs who want to board this ship.  I’m sure great things will happen but it won’t be the result of being a helicopter ride away from SFO.

The solution to the tech hiring issue isn’t recruiting or immigration reform but learning how to recruit, hire, and manage remote workers.

Sure, in-person teams working together are generally more effective and easier to manage,  but I have also seen remote teams and outsourced development succeed.  I worked with the Baltimore-based Intridea to quickly launch a project on time. The product never went down except for planned maintenance.  Intridea has recruited a top-notch team because they draw from a wider pool of remote employees. They also hire outstanding technical program managers to keep distributed teams organized and communicating.

We can use the web any place and on any device, yet location only seems to matter if your working on the Internets.  Trade brought people to ports, the industrial revolution brought farmers to factories,  web 2.0 brought everyone to Palo Alto.   Assembling  a car is location-dependent, building a website is not.

There is hope for our future and proof that remote works with services like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, Elance, Odesk and Media Piston that match remote workers with employers on a per job or project basis.  You can hire engineers in the Ukraine, writers in Detroit, and voice-over talent in Australia.  The long-tail of supply and demand for work is being served.  They are also distributing opportunity and the pursuit of happiness.  Joe Heitzeberg, the founder/CEO of MediaPiston told me about the heart-warming email he received from a mother who was able to bring her family to Disneyland based on the income she earned from the company.

So my call to action is to learn how to effectively work with and manage remote teams.

I’m not saying you should have a 100% remote team, but start learning when and how to use this approach.  What if you were to re-shift some of the time you spend recruiting locally to learning and figuring out how to hire remote workers.

When you figure it out, teach others your tricks and best practices from code reviews to deal structure.  One companies recruiting win is another companies turnover.  It’s in your best interest to show people how to recruit and manage remote employees.

Scrubly founder and CEO Bob Thoradson  kindly spent over 1 hour with me giving me his tips on working with remote workers on odesk.  We both live in the Seattle-area, but used Skype and screen-sharing for this helpful training session. Intridea’s multi-talented Program Manager/Designer/ Developer Patti Chan,  has shared her tips for managing remote teams.

If you have any tips and advice for managing remote teams, share your ideas in the comments below.

(By the way, we are hiring a rock star front-end developer at MeritShare for our Seattle-office and giving flat-screen TV’s away for referrals  — ok just kidding)

Hug A TSA Agent

Summertime and the living is easy, except for those that insist on boarding a plane.  Pushing SUV-sized strollers & booking 2 stop connections to earn more frequent flyer points, many travelers set themselves up for failure.  The customer is always right, so indignant air travelers will share their air whines at barbecues and on Facebook posts.  You’ve heard them all —  lost luggage, crying babies, canceled flights everywhere, you know the airlines just don’t care.

The most pedestrian of the genre is the TSA shake down. From the start you know it ends badly with fructose-free yogurt confiscated from the lululemon MILF.  A child goes hungry.

TSA is always good for a quip and agents are easy targets for passive aggressives to unleash the latter half of their personality disorder.   A Florida woman who asserts she was groped by a TSA agent went Rambo and is now facing misdemeanor felony charges for grabbing the crotch of a TSA agent  as payback.

It’s rarely a hot girl complaining about being felt up during a pat down, I would remember that. TSA only picks on the bacon-fed lardo’s. Wouldn’t you want to use those scanners to check out those muffin tops and beer belly’s?

Politicians have jumped on the TSA-hate wagon. Crafty Rand Paul raised $250k in 3 days when he pledged to privatize and end the reign of TSA.   Rand also demonstrated his Tea Party cred by refusing a TSA pat down when he triggered a scanner alarm.  He was not allowed on that flight, his childish protest is just another reason he’s stuck in the fringes.

In an official hearing on TSA, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Transportation Subcommittee suggested TSA stop doing pat-down searches of well-known passengers such as Beyonce and Donald Rumsfeld.  Maybe TSA should keep copies of TMZ nearby to identify all the celebrities trying to fly incognito.

Much respect to the TSA agent who padded down Rumsfield. Why would anyone trust “Rummy” after he pushed us into the Iraq invasion and then ignored the advice of our military leadership on resources, strategy, and a post-invasion plan.  He was probably concealing that weapon of mass destruction Saddam was hiding.  Oops my mistake, there were no WMD’s found.

The subcommittee went on to address the agency’s efforts to fix its “poor customer service image and become a leaner, smarter agency.

Leaner and smarter is always good, but a better image shouldn’t be a priority.    I don’t want my TSA to be friendly, just effective.  I like security that is intimidating, serious, focused and on high alert.  I’m not proposing Rodney King beat-downs (well maybe on those who wear flip-flops into airplane bathrooms), just the right level of authority and unpredictability to deter evil-doers.

TSA agents work to keep us safe and for that reason alone we should respect them.  Like anything else, there are both good and bad actors.  We get to travel, while they are on the ground working in the same place doing the same thing.  Even with business travel, visiting another city is at least change of scenery and an opportunity for a different experience.  Flying is a luxury not everyone can afford.

But please do not really hug a TSA agent, you may get in trouble for that.  I’m sure just a simple thank you to the TSA agent is enough, reminding us all that they are doing their job to keep us safe.


I’m guilty of almost everything I call out above, especially ranting and whining about “first world” problems I should be thankful to have.


Guns found in the week of 6/15/12-6/22/12 by TSA.  During this week, they also confiscated a Bazooka round, throwing stars, IED training aids, knifes, stun guns, mace, and 2 cane swords.

Hamburger Hill Post-Mortem: Best Spartan Legs

I Kicked A Guy In The Balls

Over the weekend I competed in the Spartan Sprint race with fellow tech geeks Joe Heitzeberg and Will O’Brien.  Some call it a Burning Man triathlon mash-up, the race is designed by ultra athletes and a Royal Marine.  The Spartan tagline is “you’ll know at the finish line”.  This 3 mile course with 15 obstacles was suppose to be a warm-up training session for the much longer 10-12 mile Tough Mudder we are doing later in September.

To prepare, I ran hills, hit weights to get strong and Yoga to stay limber. I was ready.  I suspected that these macho mud tests were more pro wrestling spectacle than ironman endurance.  No worries.

We arrived to a sea of cars parked over rolling hills, it felt like a concert.  Right after we got out of the car, 3 cuties competing in the race parked next to us and started flirting.  Yes they did.  Either the sunblock we just sprayed on was loaded with pheromones, Will & Joe are babe magnets in geek clothes, or the symmetry of the 3=3 math was undeniable — this kind of shit never happens to me.  Ladies loved us Spartan’s.  My middle-aged ego was pumped up, until they passed me on the course.

Over the PA system, the words  “Are — You– Ready” reverberated through the hills over the thumping music.   This was definitely WWE time, I was ready to rumble.

We started the race at the back, which means we had a frustrating start pressing forward as the crowd funneled uphill on a narrow path.  The hardest part was just keeping my footing on the slippery path wearing a pair of old running shoes with no traction.  I didn’t want to buy a pair of trail running shoes. Spartan means frugal, right?

The night before I saw a tweet from @ben_watts who was buying gloves, a camelback hydration system, & knee pads.  Really, is all that necessary?  The unspoken dude rule is not to be that over-geared ass clown.  We hit the first obstacle, pulling a big concrete weight with a rope and pulley. I let the weight down too quick and burned my fingers on the rope.  @ben_watts was right about the gloves.  It hurts to type this post.

The crawl-in-mud-under-barbed-wire obstacle was next.  The photo of the barbed wire crawl in the Spartan registration page is flat,  optimized for conversion.  Our reality had hills,  lots of them.   Being sandwiched between the mud and barbed wire is claustrophobic.   You feel like a meatloaf sandwich.  But I made it, barbed wire mud crawl done, check!  I expected our young buck & former captain of Harvard’s Ultimate Frisbee team Will O’Brien to have smoked me and looked ahead for him.  Instead he was behind, helping several people get through the escape from San Quentin.

While the Tough Mudder competition has a help-thy-fellow-mudder ethos, none was called out in Spartan. We were mostly strangers, yet everyone helped, providing  grips on slippery slopes and high-five audibles when it got tough.  We didn’t bifurcate into a two-class helper and receiver system.  Almost all of us needed a hand, we were all enablers.

I wasn’t shy about taking handouts.  As I approached a 10 foot wall, a guy backed up against the wall and cupped his hands together to give me a boost.  I needed momentum, so I kicked up with all my strength and I nailed the guy right in the nuts.  He groaned, and doubled over.  After a few minutes of making sure he was ok, he insisted that I try again with his help.  Will looked at me and said “hey buddy, you may want to move a little slower this time”.  I got over that wall with no collateral gonad damage.

There were more obstacles like climbing up ropes or a balance walk on thin alder poles.  A fall or fail resulted in doing 30 burpees.  Burpees are a cruel combination of  push-up, sit-up, and squat into a movement that burns 50% more calories than other exercises.  No one hates burpees more than Joe Heitzeberg.  I love working with Joe because he has a “reality adjustment field”.  When he sets his mind to something, he is unstoppable, he adjusts reality. So the next challenge was chucking a spear about 15 feet to hit a target.  Everyone missed, everyone did 30 burpees.  Joe hit the target, but was more excited about not doing burpees then realizing he is one of a few folks who actually beat the challenge.

At this point, I thought the rest would be downhill, but then I looked up and saw  a 200 foot muddy hill with people inching their way up and pinned down by more barbed wire. I thought we had checked that obstacle off.  Now I know why so many great war movies like Hamburger Hill involve taking some hill.  There is no better metaphor for an uphill battle.  At this point most of us were tired, dehydrated, and over-heated.  As I crawled up our Hamburger Hill, I became painfully aware of the rocks cutting my knees into chopped liver.  Did @ben_watts buy knee pads?  Mud flew in my eye and I couldn’t see, for a couple of moments I thought I might need to bail. Then I heard some navy seal fire jumper triathlete yelling out like a drill sergeant “let’s move, let’s move… hand over hand.. man-up, let’s go”.

Mr. testosterone, STFU!  This did not motivate or inspire me.  I was thirsty and needed to take a crap.  The worst part about this hill is that it has 2 sections, and is longer than you think.  My final ascent was powered by annoyance.  Mud is good for your skin until it gets in your cuts.   I was done with this shit.

Nearing the end, there is a big bonfire burning and you jump through it — everyone knows it’s not as difficult or dangerous as it looks.  Most of the crowd sees our high spirited leaps over the campfire, and not the hell on knees plodding ascent of Hamburger Hill.  That is deviously hidden in the middle of the course, to convert more spectators into Spartan’s for the next race.

The last obstacle is borrowed from American Gladiator with a bunch ofsuper- sized guys stopping you from reaching the finish line with Q-Tip shaped training weapons the Marine’s call “pugil sticks”.  There was no one in front or behind me, I had the crowd’s complete attention.  Red rover, red rover send Kevin right over.

Let’s do this!  I mustered all the strength left in me, and started running as fast as I could straight into one of the guys, dropping my right shoulder before impact to take him down.  Instead he flicked me to the side, getting me off balance spinning past the finish line landing into the dirt, chest first.  In my mind, this Spartan just kicked a Gladiator’s ass.  The crowd headline was different:  Spaz Flails Across Finish Line.

The Spartan race was no sunday stroll. We climbed ropes,  went up walls, traversed walls, jumped over walls, lifted semi-truck tires, dragged cinder blocks, carried heavy weights on our shoulders up a hill, swung on pull bars and climbed more ropes.  I didn’t respect it until I was mud-deep.  I got whooped, but left feeling like a bad-ass.   After the race, we even did 50 more push-ups for the US Army to win a free water bottle.  HOOAH!  We were unstoppable.

As fortune would have it, we again bumped into those 3 cuties.  We are all Spartans after the race,  and toasted our shared accomplishment with a cool beer provided by the event. There is no catalyst for new friendship like physical pain.

I saw the guy who boosted me up the wall and I yelled out  “sorry for kicking you in the nuts”, he gave me a big smile back and said “dude… great job, we did it.”

Kevin Nakao, Joe Heitzeberg, & Will O’Brien: Tough Mudders in Training

I originally wrote this post for  The Best Thing This Year .