Lasagna and Cake: Or, the joy in doing needlessly complicated things

It’s summer vacation, and while I’ve just started one internship and am about to start another, I don’t have too much to do all day. Besides reading, catching up on The (newest) Conversation about sexism in the atheist movement, and going swimming in Lake Michigan, one of the most fun things to do with a lot of time is take on ridiculous projects. It lets us try new things, challenge ourselves, have fun and hopefully come out the other side having learned something, or being a person who does slightly cooler things than they did yesterday. Hence, Blogathon. And it was wonderful. We’ve raised $82,304.00 so far, and I think I met a lot of my other goals as well, like having fun and writing short posts (that I hope were fun to read), although I really didn’t drink enough coffee.

But when that ended, I needed something else to do. There was only one choice: mushroom lasagna.

Which I’ve been wanting to make for forever. It’s somewhat more complicated than pizza: you have to cook the noodles, make a béchamel, sautée mushrooms, grate cheese, and then layer it all and cook it for 45 minutes. It took me about three and a half hours total, but was totally and absolutely worth it.

Step 1: Go shopping.

Step 2: Get home. Open package of lasagna noodles.

Ha! Nope! I didn’t buy any stinkin’ lasagna noodles. I made them.

Real Step 2: Start making pasta dough according to this recipe. Realize it calls for a food processor, which you don’t have. Frantically google. Find out there are a million different recipes for pasta dough, some of which have oil, some have more flour, some fewer eggs, etc. Freak out a little bit. Get yourself together and just use your stand mixer.

Combine ingredients with paddle attachment, knead with dough hook. Have everything work out. Calm down. Let the dough sit for an hour to allow ‘gluten formation’ which is probably some food science hoax buzzword designed to make the whole process take longer. Take a nap in the meantime.

Step 3a: Take out and assemble your mother’s absurdly old fashioned pasta roller. Isn’t it awesome? It has a hand crank!

Step 3b: Insert dough.

Step 3c: Roll by hand. Feel like a superstar.

Step 3d: Repeat.

Step 3e: Lay out on all available clean flat surfaces. Proceed to run out of clean flat surfaces.

Step 4: Cook them in boiling water with salt. Be astonished at how fast fresh pasta cooks (like 45 seconds, it’s crazy). Protip: Add oil to the water. It stops the pasta from sticking together.

Step 5: Make béchamel by adding flour to butter to make a roux. Then add milk simmered with garlic (not shown). Hope that the recipe accounted for a sixth of the milk spilling on the oven top before making it to the saucepan.

Step 6: Cut and sautée a ridiculous amount of mushrooms (a full pound and a half).

Step 7: Assemble ALL the ingredients!

Step 8: Layer in a pan. Realize you didn’t buy Parmesan cheese. Decide all cheese is delicious so it doesn’t matter. Use the motley mix of colby, muenster and cheddar you have in the fridge.

(No picture, I know you’re all very disappointed).

Step 9: Place in oven.

Step 10: Take out.

Step 11: Ignore instructions to let cool and try to eat immediately.

Step 12: Realize that maybe the instruction has a point. Let cool.

Step 13: Serve to friends. Eat. Have fun. Unfortunately, no pictures of the food.

This is my friend. Don’t worry, I won at Bananagrams 🙂

Also at some point in the evening I made a cake. It was delicious.

Friends, games and absurd cooking projects. What else do you need on a lovely summer day?

P.S. The lasagna freezes and reheats very well.

Atheism: Questions and Answers

So SA got a bunch of emails from an English class in Chicago asking us about our religious beliefs. Apparently they’re doing some kind of project on religion, so Mike Mei and I I gave them our answers on the condition that I could post them. Here they are; I’d love to know what you think! (Note: Yes, there is some overlap, which I warned them about, and yes they are fairly short. Whatever.) If you have other questions you want us to ask about atheist (or in my case, Jewish atheist) identity, please ask in comments! Similarly if you disagree with any of my answers. 
(Partially cross-posted at the UCSecular Blog)

Question Set 1:

1. What made you want to follow the faith that you are following?
I am an atheist, and I identify as such because I desire powerfully to have an accurate and true understanding of the world around me and my best rational inquiry has led me to the belief that there is no god.

2. How has your religious belief affected you and those around you?
My atheism, perhaps surprisingly, affects my life relatively little. Most of the time, the notion of god happening not to exist is not on my mind. However, the secular community has become one of my communities of choice, and spending time with such people has enriched my life, the way that such communities do. Similarly, I feel that my atheism has not affected those around me, except that I perhaps engage in more friendly debates about religion than I otherwise would.

3. What is the main concepts/pathways your religion follows?
There is almost certainly no god, meaning is to be found by individual humans through choice and ethics are to be derived from science and human values.

4. How do you define the relationship between the sacred and its followers?
The sacred is a cluster of powerful human intuitions and emotions surrounding these intuitions; followers of the sacred are people who have decided to dedicate some portion of their physical or mental lives to considering and engaging with these intuitions, either individually or in groups with shared tenets or practices.

5. How do you know that you have accomplished your purpose on Earth? Why do you believe you were put on Earth?
I do not believe I was placed on Earth; I believe I was born. I have no external purpose, and the only guidepost I can use to decide whether I have achieved any purpose at all is my own reason and judgment.

6. Describe how you find meaning in your life?  What steps have you taken to achieve completion?
Meaningfulness is also a constructed social understanding of shared human intuition, and so I find it in many of the ways that most humans access those satisfying and powerful emotions: I learn about the things I find interesting, I spend time with people I admire and care about, I set goals for myself that I think are useful, ethical and challenging and try to achieve them and I try to think deeply about the world.

7. Describe how the followers of your religious belief find meaning in their life? What are the steps necessary?
Because atheists are not bound by a series of strict beliefs, tenets and laws, they all find meaning in their own ways. Some are existentialists, who find meaning through choice and experience, some are humanists, who find meaning through ethical practice and community building, some are nihilists, who do not believe in meaning, and some are something else altogether. There are no prescribed steps, nor prescribed meaning.

Question Set 2:

1.      What kind of religion do you believe in? ex. : Christian, Jewish, Buddhist
I am an atheist.

2.      How long have you been practicing this religion?
I have been an atheist since I was approximately 11 years old (8 years ago) but have been actively engaging with the atheist community for 3 years.

3.      Do you participate in daily or weekly meetings/worship services? If so, how often?
Yes, I go to weekly secular meetings at my school.

4.      Why are you drawn to this particular religious philosophy? Why do you choose it?
I desire powerfully to have an accurate and true understanding of the world around me and my best rational inquiry has led me to the belief that there is no god.

5.      In your personal experiences, what did this belief bring to you? How does it influence your life? Why this is important to you?
Atheism has been tremendously liberating and satisfying belief to hold. It makes me feel like a more rational person, a more consistent person, and a more thoughtful person. I can feel proud of this belief, knowing that it is supported by evidence and that it is commensurate with a worldview in which empiricism, science and critical thinking are privileged above dogmatism and tradition. It is a progressive approach to the world, and best of all, it is true.

6.      Can you list and briefly explain some specific events that happened in your life, which this specific religion was involved? (it helped you to make decisions, it told you how to deal with the relationship with people, etc.)
Because atheism is simply the lack of belief in a god, it has never helped me make a specific decision, but the belief that there is no afterlife has certainly made me have much more of a concern for human life now.

7.      How do you identify the word “God”? How do you describe your relationship with the god?
The word God refers to our cultural understanding of a being which satisfies intuitions and emotions we have about the need for objective truth, meaning and morality, the existence of vast and majestic power and the desirability of the existence of an eternal onlooker, judge, king and parental figure.

8.     (Optional) Do you have any friends or family members who are also believe in the same religion?
Yes. Both of my parents are atheists, as are many of my friends and community members.

To check out Mike Mei’s answers, click here, and to check out his blog, click here.