Cheesy Baked Whole Wheat Ziti with Roasted Veggies and Spinach

1 lb Whole Wheat Ziti

1/2 Jar Spaghetti Sauce

24oz Ricotta Cheese

Large Handful each of grated Parmesan and Mozzarella

2 Portobello Mushroom Caps, ribs removed and diced

1 large bunch of Asparagus, trimmed and cut into thirds

Half a Red Onion, sliced thinly

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1 medium zucchini, sliced thinly

Large handful of Spinach, chopped.

1 egg

1. Combine Mushrooms, Asparagus, onion, and zucchini on a sheet pan. Season with salt and drizzle with olive oil. Roast at 375 for 25 min. Allow to cool. This can be done ahead of time.

2. Boil water for pasta – 10-12 cups. Add a large pinch of salt to the water.

3. Combine egg, ricotta, parmesan, spinach, garlic in a large mixing bowl.

4. Drop the pasta and cover the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish with a thin layer of tomato sauce.

5. When pasta is just tender, combine it and roasted vegetables with the ricotta mixture. Stir to coat everything with the ricotta.

6. Place mixture in an even layer in the baking dish, spreading a thin layer of tomato sauce on top. Sprinkle Mozzarella over the top and bake at 375 for 30 min. Allow to cool and set for 10 min before serving.

Serves 6 large portions.

Total prep time 60 min

Total cook time 40 min


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$40,000 Per Person, Per Year

Have been volunteering for a non-profit called Venturing Out for the last 8 months or so. Venturing Out teaches a course called Entrepreneurship 101 to incarcerated people, with the goal of helping them start their own small business upon release. The idea is that these former offenders, who tend to struggle in the job market, will create their own jobs, stay out of jail, and get a second chance at life. The benefits to society are twofold – 1) people who start small businesses are logically much less likely to commit a crime 2) it costs Massachusetts taxpayers roughly $40,000 per person, per year to incarcerate someone, so the cost savings are potentially enormous.

Having already graduated 300 people from the three month Entrep 101 course at a number of different sites, Venturing Out has proof of concept in the bag. What is amazing to me is that there are so few other similar programs in the U.S. The most famous and successful is the Prison Entrepreneurship Program just outside of Houston, TX. PEP’s results are pretty extraordinary. The program started when a Texas based private equity executive, Catherine Rohr, visited a prison with a friend who had donated to a prison focused ministry organization. When speaking with the inmates, many who were behind bars for drug related offenses, Rohr realized that they had a strong instinctive grasp on the fundamentals of business. She quit her job and went to work for the Texas Department of Corrections. To date, PEP has graduated 440 students. 47 of them have started businesses, and another five have jobs paying $100k+/yr. Though 105 students have been re-incarcerated, PEP’s recidivism rate of around 24% compares favorably with DOJ’s observed rates, which vary but hover above 60% in most cases.

So, what does all this have to do with me? Well, I was looking for the right volunteer opportunity. There are a number of project based, volunteer organizations in the Boston area. Through these, people can help at a soup kitchen or help paint a house on an as needed basis. I was looking for something more long term, and VO’s focus on business was a good fit. Additionally, I spend my days working with students who in most cases have every advantage, so the opportunity to help people who really needed it was compelling for me. Finally, VO is not just some bleeding heart liberal cause – I think these sorts of programs retain that stigma in the national debate. Saving $40,000 per person per year and lowering crime rates are both things that even the most strident small government conservative should be able to support. It has been rewarding to help VO with fundraising and curriculum development, and I look forward to contributing to continued success.

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Bucket List – V1

Have been thinking about this for a while. There are obviously other things, such as raise a family, own a house, etc. These are the one off, slightly mad things that I have always wanted to do. Enjoy.

– Travel to Switzerland, Scotland, Italy, Ireland, and South Africa
– See Arsenal play at the Emirates in London
– See Steve Earle live
– Eat at Le Bernardin in NYC before Eric Ripert retires
– Drive a Porsche 911 at full throttle
– Climb the Hell Brook trail on Mt. Mansfield in VT
– Complete the Long Trail in VT
– Drive across the United States
– Drive any fast car on a race track
– Eat Beef in Argentina
– Take part in a driven pheasant shoot in Scotland or England
– Write a book – probably business or nonfiction.


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On Fracking

Upstate New York: a land of rolling hills and peaceful valleys largely forgotten by its downstate neighbors, as well as the 21st century information economy. Recently, the region of my birth has been the subject of intense scrutiny and debate – something to which it is not accustomed. The reason for said attention? Hydraulic Fracturing – a method by which water, sand, and chemicals are pumped under high pressure deep into the ground, with the goal of extracting natural gas.

At first blush, fracking (as it is known) seems quite attractive. Natural gas burns more cleanly in power plants than does coal, and can be used to heat homes in place of oil or propane. Furthermore, the gas is abundant in the Marcellus Shale formations along the east coast of the Unites States – particularly in New York and Pennsylvania. Fracking advocates argue that increased drilling will make the country more energy independent, and will create high paying jobs in economically depressed rural areas. These advocates, unsurprisingly, tend to be landowners and farmers who stand to gain economically from gas leases, as well as the gas companies and their political proxies.

Naturally, there is another side to the argument. Opponents of fracking worry about air and water pollution, property values, and destruction of habitat. They tend to be those who  live near potential fracking sites but do not stand to benefit directly from gas leases. The social differences between the two sides has led to much of the animosity surrounding this issue – for example, many pro fracking advocates view anti-frackers as relatively wealthy “townfolk” who don’t need the money that gas leases can provide.

So, whom to believe? I certainly agree that energy independence and economic stimulus are both critically necessary. However, I tend not to believe large corporations when they assure me that their seemingly risky operations are perfectly safe and self-regulated – see Lehman Brothers 2008, and BP, 2011. If fracking is so safe, why is it banned in France and in the New York City watershed? Why is fracking exempt from EPA regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act?  I don’t yet know whom to believe, but I do know that there has not yet been a reasoned, national debate about this issue. When there is, I hope that some sensible but not overly restrictive regulations will allow fracking to continue – but only if it is in the broader public interest, not just in the interest of gas companies, landowners, and pipe workers.

To me, this means that fracking should only continue if it will not pollute ground water or release unacceptable levels of methane and other gases into the air. I am a long way from a tree hugging environmentalist, but I do believe that we should not sacrifice the long term health of our environment – we only get one – for the short term health of our collective bank balance. I hope that fracking will help both of these problems by creating jobs and replacing coal with natural gas, but I am not convinced that gas companies will choose to implement higher cost (less harmful) procedures unless forced to do so. Without more regulation, self or otherwise, fracking will continue to be seriously harmful to air and water quality, property values, and habitats.  The situation in Dimrock, PA and in many other places is ample evidence of this. I do believe that such an abundant natural resource should be exploited for both national and local gain, just not in a way that is a bonanza for gas companies and a disaster for everyone else.

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Book Review: Unbroken

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption: Had the story of 2LT Louis Zamperini been fiction, critics would certainly have dismissed it. Any of the three main phases of the story would be itself extraordinary. That they happened to the same man in the course of <10 years defies description. Louis, a tearaway and a thief as a child,  discovered running in high school. His talent for the sport propelled him to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, where he found that his body was not yet mature enough to compete at the highest level. The 1940 Olympics would have been his moment, but the war intervened. After a few missions with the Army Air Corps, Louis’ plane crashed into the Pacific while searching for another lost bomber, losing all hands but Louis and two others. The three floated several thousand miles west across the pacific, surviving on rainwater, fish, and birds. Eventually they were captured by the Japanese and subjected to years of punishing captivity. Louis returned to the US, married, survived a bout of alcoholism, and is living a happy and healthy life (he is 94).

This is primarily a tale of war, perseverance, and cruelty. At times, the descriptions of Louis’ treatment by the Japanese are hard to read. However, my takeaway from this work is amazement at how far the body and the mind can be pushed – what people can endure when they have to. Louis’ ordeal makes everyday aggravations seem irrelevant, and his determination to survive is an example to my generation. In a world of slow economic growth and broken government, young people should not be camped in parks (or in Igloos, as they were in Davos this week). Those among them with any charisma and ability should recognize that the government isn’t going to help them – the old jobs aren’t coming back, and congress doesn’t care about anything but cash and reelection. The only way to truly “recover” is to take the recovery out the hands of government entirely by starting businesses and reimagining our economy. This will be a difficult task, requiring sacrifice, hardship, and significant disruption of existing industries. With luck, my generation will not be forced to fight a global war against an existential threat. Instead, our charge is to make sure that the current sense of national decline is looked upon as a footnote in the broader narrative. Louis’ Zamperini’s determination and perseverance are a good place to start.

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How NOT to Roast a Duck (Need Advice)

Spent the last few days in GA visiting my wife’s family for the holidays – we had a great time and as usual had our fair share of food and wine. My sister in law has developed a taste for duck recently, and being the adventurous amateur cook that I am, I decided to roast one even though I had only ever cooked duck breasts before – it’s just like a chicken, right?

Wrong. Now, while my duck did turn out OK in the end, It could have been better. Here’s what I did: I know that ducks have a thick layer of delicious fat under their skin, and I wanted to render it into the roasting pan. When you cook a duck breast, you just put it in the pan with no additional fat over a low heat – the fat renders nicely and crisps the skin. I thought I would try something similar with the whole duck, so I scored the skin over the breast, stuffed the duck with orange and rosemary, patted dry, seasoned, and roasted at 300 until it hit 150 degrees, basting it 2x with melted butter spiked with garlic, rosemary, and orange.

Meanwhile, I reduced some honey, soy sauce, and orange juice by about 50% – when the duck reached 150, I painted the glaze on and cranked the oven to 425 until the bird reached 160 at which point I removed it and let it rest. Upon carving, I found that while the meat did taste good, the fat was not rendered and the skin was not crispy. What did I do wrong?

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Book Review I – Recent Reads

Some notes on a few that I have read lately. Enjoy.

The Undercover Economist –

Tim Harford is an Oxford trained economist who left a career at the IMF and World Bank to write for the Financial Times. His first book is an extension of his column of the same name. It explains economic basics such as externalities and marginal cost in a legitimately accessible and fun way. The chapter on consumer behavior (What the Supermarket doesn’t Want you to Know) is particularly interesting. I know that these sort of economic basics sound VERY dry, but this really is a refreshing, fun look at them.

Jacques Pepin – My Life in the Kitchen

Pepin is of course a well loved chef, writer, and TV host. This memoir of his wartime boyhood in France, his culinary training, and his life and work in New York City is warm, humble, and a brilliant read. His account of his long suffering mother’s business acumen – she would purchase a failing restaurant, rehabilitate it, and then sell – presages Pepin’s own successful career in fine restaurants and with Howard Johnson. This is a must read for anyone who likes food and cooking.

Bill Bryson – At Home

Bill Bryson is a madman. Who else would decide to write a thick book about mundane household items? Who else could pull it off? Prompted by a move to an old rectory in rural England, Bryson details the history of each part of the modern home – the stairs, the hall, the bedroom, the cellar, etc. Only Bryson can illuminate these mundane items with colorful stories of history and language. Anyone who has read his Notes from a Tiny Island will be on familiar ground here.

Mark Bowden – Killing Pablo

Having breathlessly read Black Hawk Down a few months ago, I decided to check out the rest of Bowden’s writing. Killing Pablo is written in a similar style, and details Pablo Escobar’s rise to power, his arrest, his time on the run, and his death at the hands of Columbian police. This is a fascinating tale of corruption, violence, covert operations, and the US’s secret, paternalistic dealings in Latin America.

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