Justin’s Stove-Top Penne Pasta

pre-cheese and basil

pre-cheese and basil

This is a simple, healthy recipe that is just as tasty as anything you’ll eat at an Italian restaurant (and about half the cost). I created this recipe in a desire to get something delicious, but healthy. What I came up with is water-watering.  There is no meat involved, just lots of good, fresh ingredients.  If you just absolutely NEED meat, go ahead and add some cooked Italian sausage and/or shrimp to the recipe for an even more hearty meal.

What You Need:

- cherry tomatoes (1 pk)

- 100% virgin olive oil (I normally use oil from Tuscany, but it may be interesting to try it with oils from other places like Greece or California) 2 tablespoons

- 2 cloves garlic

- uncooked (wheat or regular) penne pasta (1/3 box or 1/2 bag)

-  1 cup grated cheese mix  (parmesan, mozzarella, pepperjack – or any three white cheeses)

- fresh basil leaves, diced (optional)

- sea salt

- cracked black pepper

- tomato basil pasta sauce or regular tomato sauce (1/4 cup)


- Large skillet

- medium sized pot

- spatula or large mixing spoon

- knife, cutting board

- cheese grater (highly suggested)

- measuring cup (optional)

- strainer (optional)


What You Do:

1) The first thing you need to do is half your cherry tomatoes. Well, first wash them and then half them. When you cut them in half, it’ll make your life easier if you cut them down the length instead of around the width of the tomatoes. The reason for this is that the tomatoes will take a little while to cook down into a sauce, and if you’re anything like me, you hate waiting. So cutting them down the length will allow them to cook faster – a little bit. Thank me later. (3 mins)

2) Either just before you cut the tomatoes, or sometime midway through your decapitation fun, go ahead and measure your olive oil and garlic into the skillet.  You can add a little more olive oil later, if necessary, once you put the tomatoes in. Also, make sure that you try your best to spread your garlic around the pan. Be careful. It will pop on you. Stop being a baby. You’ll know it’s hot when.. Ouch! I just got popped. (1 min or less)

3) Maybe before doing all of this, you might want to drop that pasta into a pot of heavily salted boiling water.  Make sure you salt that thing. It should taste like salt water, kind of.  It helps to clean the pasta and heat the water faster.  The pasta will be dry when you put it in there, so you’ll know it’s done when the color is a pale yellow and it’s squishy. They’ll also grow a little bit. This shouldn’t take more than 10 mins before it’s cooked. If you get scared that you may be overcooking your pasta, don’t worry. Just take it off the burner and let it sit for a while. You’ll have time to finish cooking them in the sauce later.

4) Now that you’ve got your pasta boiling, and your tomatoes all cut nicely, your oil-garlic mixture should be nice and hot. Go ahead and drop (be careful) those tomatoes into your hot oil and let them sit for a while. Well, don’t drop them – scoop them in there so that you don’t make a mess. Stir them every few minutes until your nose gets excited and the tomatoes get soft and wrinkly. This may take about 10 mins or more depending on your stove.

5) While your pasta is boiling and your tomato concoction is brewing (make sure you stir it), it may be a good time to go ahead and cut up your fresh basil. You can cut it however you like – small chunk, long strips – doesn’t matter. Just make sure you throw away the stems. Don’t want that getting in there. Oh, and I hope you washed the basil off in water first. Oops. Leave it to the side.

6) Also, now is as good a time as any to grate your cheese. You can choose to do this later, once your pasta is done if you like. I just like having things ready to go. Besides, you’re just standing around anyway. You might as well get to work. Take your blocks of mozzarella and pepper jack and grate them into a measuring cup.  Add your parmesan.  Yeah sure you can use pre-shredded cheese, but it won’t be the same. It just won’t.  You should end up with a cup, or more, of delicious cheese. If you don’t have a measuring cup, then it’s about the amount of a half-full glass of juice. It’s a lot. I know. If you’re lactose intolerant or some other stuff, then I’m sorry you have to miss out on this. But I promise the pasta will be awesome without it – mostly. Leave your cheese mix to the side. Submerge the grater in some water. (When you have to wash dishes later, you’ll thank me dearly for telling you to do this.)

7) Remember that pasta/tomato sauce I told you to get? Good. Add that to your tomatoes that are cooking on the stove. Stir it in slowly. Add a little pepper. Bam! You do this so that your sauce can actually be a sauce. I used to make it without this step, which was fine, but I like to have some sauciness to my sauce – just a little bit. I would not add any more than what I suggested, but you can add less. Let it cook for about 5 mins. Stir. (This would also be the point where you add your cooked meat, if you want meat.)

8) Now, your pasta should be boiled. Strain the boiled water into the sink. Make sure no pastas try to escape. Mark my words, they will try to escape with the water. Make sure all of the water is gone! You don’t want water getting into your pasta. It’ll make it runny. No one like runny pasta. Once the pasta sauce is hot and bubbly, add your drained pasta to the sauce. Mix it up. Stir. Let it sit on the fire. 10 mins.

9) Turn down the burner a few notches. Add your basil to the pasta, and pepper, and mix it in. Add your cheese to the top of pasta and let it melt. You’ll know when the cheese is melted. When it is, cut the fire off.

10) Let the pasta sit and cool for about 5 mins before serving. If you’re hardheaded and you eat it before it’s cool, don’t get mad at me when your tongue gets burned.

11) Serve and store the rest in the refrigerator (once fully cooled). It reheats very nicely. If you’re cooking for more than one or 2 people, then you need to double or quadruple your ingredients.

(This is only a version of my secret recipe. I’m obviously not going to divulge my secret ingredient(s) to anyone.)


A Man’s Best Friend…

Did it ever occur to you that many American people between the ages of 20 and 26 really love pets? There may be no real way to prove why this is a reality or even if this is something worth studying, but I think there may be some correlation with Disney films.

This group of people grew up during the age of what is known as the “Disney Renaissance”, which saw the release of such films as The Little Mermaid (1989) through Tarzan (1999).  What’s interesting is that in all of these films, the protagonist has an animal companion. We read many stories about the subliminal messaging of the films and the sexual imagery and the misogynistic portrayals of gender, etc.. But we rarely, if ever, notice the inseparable bond between the main character and his/her pet bff. Don’t believe me? Here’s a refresher:

The Little Mermaid (1989) – Ariel has Sebastian and Flounder

The Rescuers Down Under (1990) – Cody has Marahute, Jake, the Rescuers

Beauty and the Beast (1991) – (this one is a bit weird) Belle has the horse and the dishes; Beast has Lumiere and Coggsworth.

Aladdin (1992) – Aladdin has Abu (and the magic carpet, if that counts); Jafar has Iago

The Lion King (1994) – Simba/Mufasa have Zazu, Timon, Pumbaa; Scar has hyenas

Pocahontas (1995) – Pocahontas has Meeko and Flit

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) – Quasimodo has the gargoyles Hugo, Victor, and Laverne

Hercules (1997) – Hercules has Pegasus and Phil (he’s a satyr)

Mulan (1998) – Mulan has Mushu

Tarzan (1999) – Tarzan has Terk and Tantor

Princess and the Frog (2009) – Tiana and Naveen have Louis and Ray

Ok, I through that last one in for fun. I’ve also neglected to mention those other films of the 2000s such as Lilo & Stitch, Atlantis, etc. They were not as critically or financially successful as the films of the so-called Renaissance that ended in 1999.  I’ve also excluded the Pixar films and the more recent Disney films that used 3D and other formats.

These films during the 90s are vital parts of the childhoods of those of us who are now 20-26 years old. We learned many of our values from these films.  Disney shaped our childhoods in ways that many of us did not see manifest for decades. In each of these films, the animal companion is essential to the success and/or safety of the protagonist.  Just like we get many of our conceptions and fantasies of male-female relationships from the media of our childhood, could it be possible that we get our ideas of human-pet relationships?

And the Oscar Goes to…

It’s a new year. Let’s jump right into it.

12 Years a Slave is nominated for an Academy Award – Best Picture, with its black actors (Chiwetel Ejiofor and Luptia Nyong’o) nominated as well for their roles – their roles as slaves, and Michael Fassbender for his role as a malevolent slave owner.  The film has a black British director, the incomparable Steve McQueen, who is also nominated for Best Director.  It already has won numerous accolades including the Golden Globe for Best Picture. Bravo.

My point is this: Films that feature black protagonists (both male and female), which get nominated – and win – the most prestigious cinematic awards are those in which the actors portray blacks in very stereotypical roles.  Here’s the question – why?

In 1963, Sidney Poitier, KBE, was the first to win for his portrayal of jack-of-all-trades masquerader Homer Smith in Lillies of the Field. Denzel Washington comes along in 2001 to win Best Actor for his portrayal of a two-faced criminal cop in Training Day, beating out Will Smith’s Muhammad Ali.  Jamie Foxx followed up three years later with his portrayal of Ray Charles. Forest Whitaker won in ’06 for his acting as a corrupt African dictator in The Last King of Scotland leaving in the dust Will Smith’s portrayal of a black father fighting all odds to raise his son right.  And now, we have Ejiofor’s portrayal of an ingenious free black man who was tricked and spent 12 years unjustly incarcerated as a slave in the pits of the American South only to regain his freedom with the help of several charitable white men.

File:ACMI 14.jpgNow don’t get me wrong. These were all excellent roles and well-acted portrayals. Moreover, I don’t take issue with black men playing these morally ambigious – or downright evil – characters. I’m not against them playing athletes or entertainers either.  I’m not even against us playing slaves because I’ll be damned if I see another white man in blackface. It reminds me that when an actor plays Shakespeare, they are remembered for their roles in those tragic and questionable characters – Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Iago, Lear… none of whom you’d want as your neighbor. But Shakespeare gave us multiple facets of man and woman. Hollywood – the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, specifically – gives us a very limited scope of what it means to be an acceptable black person in this world.

Also, should I pause to discuss the award-winning (and nominated) roles for black women, as well? To date, Halle Berry is the only woman to have ever won Best Actress and it was for her portrayal of an abusive, broke, desperate single mother.  Just being frank. I’m not going to get into Supporting Actor and Actress. The only other nominees for Best Picture over the year, besides 12 Years, have been Django Unchained, Precious, The Blind Side (if that counts), and The Color Purple. John Singleton was nominated for Best Director in ’91 for Boyz N Da Hood.

The point, again, is that it seems that if a black actor wants a role that gets nominated for Oscars and Golden Globes and has a shot at winning, then the role they portray has to be some stereotypical aspect of black life, pop culture, or history. Records show that blacks only win when they play athletes, handymen, entertainers, criminals, slaves, abusive parents, drug addicts… I’m sure you’ve noticed the issue with this, but let me spell it out. Black culture is bigger than that. Unfortunately, the “Academy” is full of folks who really don’t understand that and don’t want to. If they did, then we’d see a film like Fruitvale Station up there. In that film, it has no happy ending, and white folks don’t swoop in to save the day. In fact, white folks – the white cops specifically – are the bad guys and justice is far from served. Perhaps it’s too realistic for the Oscar board. Perhaps it reinforces the fact that racism still exists – a fact that many people of privilege ignore and gloss over. A film like Fruitvale Station forces us to look at our own reality which seems to be exactly juxtaposed to what the Academy is looking for in a nominee.

But what do I know…

Rex Tremendae. D minor

I need to get my act together.

Ever since the semester began in August, I haven’t felt like myself. I don’t feel particularly engaged in my grad school classes as I used to be. I honestly don’t dedicate as much time to my teaching duties as I need to.

With what have I been preoccupied?

I mean, yeah, my schedule is a little different. But by all accounts and measures, this is exactly the type of schedule I always wanted, more or less. I teach 2 courses on Monday and Wednesday mornings, back to back. They’re really early…like 7am and 9am respectively. So, I have to wake up at like 5ish to get there on time. But I never actually wake up then. I usually get up…well, when the year began, I woke up at about 530, which gave me time to clean myself and grab a bite and beat traffic and get to work with time to make copies and stuff before class. Easy peasy. Then I started getting lazy. I started staying up late…and later…and later…on “school nights” even. For example, I might go to bed at 2am knowing I would have to wake up 3 hours later. That kind of crap.

But here’s the thing… I haven’t been sleeping well…not for months. Too often will I get in bed and then lie there for like an hour before I doze off…or until I hop up and go do some work since that’s what’s on my mind anyway. I stay up late because I sometimes feel like I want to crank out more hours of the day than my body can take. I feel like sleep is unnecessary. But to tell you the truth, I’m not always being productive when I stay up… I get more “actual work”  done in the wee hours of the morning after I wake up, not before I go to bed. Then why is it so darn hard for me to get out of bed in the mornings?

Teaching is and has been my passion. I love it. It’s what gets me up in the morning. As much as I gripe and groan about losing sleep, I will NOT cheat my students by choosing not to show up. I have not missed a single day this semester, which is a first. I’ve worked through headaches and other things. But somehow, my students aren’t progressing as fast or as smoothly as I would like them too, as my previous classes have done. Part of me wants to blame them for not showing up over and over again and begging me for extensions and other excuses… Part of me wants to blame myself…like I said before, I don’t feel like “me” and I don’t really know why. The bad part is, it’s affecting my students. I don’t think I’m teaching the material as well as I used to. It’s not fresh anymore, not to me. Maybe I need a new challenge. This marks my 3 time since January teaching this particular section. The first time was me getting my feet wet, finding my way. Over the summer, in the second term, it was me honing my skills, perfecting my method. Over the summer, I felt like I was on top of the world, my students started from extremely low skill levels and blossomed into fantastic writers. I was getting compliments on their behalf from across the department. It was nuts and I was proud of them and of myself. Here I am now. I’ve done this before. It should be smooth sailing, right?

Look, I know I’m not a pro. I’m not trying to boost my ego. I just feel like maybe I need a new challenge. Maybe I should try a different approach to teaching this subject. I feel like I’ve pressed out everything I can from this one. Maybe I should tweak my method some so it’ll be like recycled paper.

Maybe the problem is that I approached this class with the expectation that they would be like my summer course. I mean, one ended one week before the other began. You know how you wake up abruptly and don’t really have a chance to “wake up” before starting your activity? That’s kind of how I feel. That transition period was lost. But that’s just an excuse, I know.

Maybe my brain is clogged with stuff from grad school. These courses this term are ridiculous. One professor stresses me out with his disorganization and negative criticism. Another is draining the life out of my favorite subject. I’m applying to PhD programs. I’m presenting at my first major conference this weekend in Atlanta. I should feel overwhelmed. That would be the easy explanation. Overwhelmed, I can handle. But that’s not it. I feel fine. I’m cool. I’m chill…

Aye, there’s the rub.

I have this false sense of confidence. Maybe I’ve had it all along. It’s my second year of grad school (final of the MA program) and my second year as a teacher. In one way, I feel like a senior in high school. I’m on top of the food chain. I’m finally not the youngest person in my program. I have some critical knowledge that I can recall to make myself sound academic in discussions and debates. My chest is a little puffed out, admittedly. Concerning the teaching, it doesn’t help that I got all those compliments after the summer. In August, I literally walked into this school year with my nose high and my chest puffed. I thought I was hot stuff. Ah!

Here’s the proof: On the first day of teaching this semester, I had the confidence and the data to tell my students that my “model” for essay writing was a proven success – not to knock anyone else’s – but my way, that I promised to show them, was a good, encompassing, challenging model. I’d been successful in teaching it twice before. My students had been successful (based on their scores on the common dept final exam) in mastering it twice before. That was my data. ….Yeah.

What I failed to see in August was that along with that pride, I also brought along a shovel in which I’ve been using to dig myself into a ditch. Heave! Ho!

The tragic quality of hubris is that the character doesn’t realize that he’s a victim of it, and that he brought it upon himself.  Well, he realizes it too late. Oedipus, Othello, Agamemmnon, Lear… and so many more to job your memory. the one I’ve been more keen to identify with over these past months is Hamlet. Hamlet isn’t necessarily as hubric as those others, but he and I have a lot of similarities. OK, I’m not suicidal though. I’ve got too much to live for. Hamlet and I jus have the same tendecy to resist action and hide behind our thoughts and words. But anyway, like Hamlet too, I think I’ve fallen into my self-made trap. I approached this term in the worst way… Now I need to get my act together… This isn’t a 5 act play. Real life awards second chances.

Now, I’m going to get this work done and get to bed.

Thanks, WP, for taking that little psychological journey with me. I feel better now.

#nowplaying Mozart : Requiem in D minor K262 : Rex tremendae

The Rain

You ever feel lost? Like you just don’t know where to go from here?

You’ve been driving on the highway, or navigating the streets, and then you get to an area that you thought you knew, but didn’t. Your GPS stops working and nothing looks familiar. But you thought you knew what you were doing, where you were going.

You’re lost. And it’s raining. No, it’s pouring.

I don’t think that I should be driving down this road. For years, I’ve wanted to take this road trip, and now that I’m finally in the car and halfway there, I wonder if I’m supposed to go any further. I mean, I don’t even remember why I wanted to go on this trip. Maybe it’s not the right time to be endeavoring on such a journey. Maybe I need to stop at the next store and grab some necessities – necessary things that I didn’t even know I needed.

I thought I knew where I was going, but the farther I travel, the more opaque the destination becomes. It’s like I’m travelling into the abyss. But there was a time, not long ago, when I wanted to go into the abyss. No problem. What happened? Why such disillusion? I’m not afraid. No, that’s not it. I’m not worried. I can go the distance, but maybe I’m just on the wrong road.

Whatever the right road is, though, will most likely be just as grey, just as blurry, just as obscure and rained out. What is this? I feel like Hamlet, contemplating my existence, my role in this play. Not in a suicidal way, no. I’m just wondering what I’m doing here, sitting in this car, in the rain, on the side of the road.

I’m kind of hoping for the road to diverge, to fork somewhere in the future. Then I’ll have the option to take a new challenge, chart a new destination. That divergence is nowhere in sight. Though I’m not a quitter; I’m an adapter. I don’t “quit” things unless there some other, seemingly better, option awaiting. Sometimes, that option is amazing, and sometimes it’s not. But I like that kind of mystery. Now, all I feel is disillusionment. I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know how to take the next step, or if I should. I don’t know anymore that I even want to do that. What’s the benefit? There are plenty of things that would make me just as happy, plenty of other avenues to the same destination. Plenty of other cars, too.

Where am I? The rain hides the sun and the lanes in the road. Who am I? The water obscures my vision. I wish the water would just cleanse me, make me new. But not this time. It’s the mysterious kind, the water that hides, that disguises, that covers, and confuses.

Rain, rain go away. Plague me now, or plague me late.

Here comes another car.