comfort. italian style.

Before.

It’s been a decade or more since we’ve had a functioning oven in our house. As it turns out, finding a replacement 24-inch gas wall oven is significantly more difficult — and more expensive — than one might expect.

Much of the time, I don’t miss it. And by “much of the time,” I mean I don’t miss it in the summer, when I would be hesitant to turn it on anyway. The rest of the year, though, can be tough. I would totally bake cookies in December if I could. Having an oven could have improved my first crack at smoking a brisket earlier this year. And as the weather starts to cool off, my brain immediately starts craving things I can’t make — casseroles, baked ziti, stuffed shells … and lasagna.

Necessity is the mother of excessive kitchen toys, and at some point a few years back, my craving for lasagna drove me to the internet in search of a solution. And the internet told me that our crock pot could help.

I’ve tinkered with the original recipe to the point that it’s no longer derivative — it’s pretty much my own. And since you guys asked:

What you’ll need:

Olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 large onion, diced

2 jars of spaghetti sauce

1 small can of tomato paste

1 pound of ground beef

1 pound of ground sweet Italian sausage

1 box of lasagna noodles

15 oz tub of ricotta

About 3 cups of shredded mozzarella

About 2 cups of shredded parm

Spices: Italian seasoning, dried basil, dried oregano, parsley flakes, thyme, red pepper flakes, salt, black pepper, and a bay leaf

Sugar to taste

What you’ll do:

  1. Dump the cheeses in a mixing bowl and stir until all three are combined evenly. Set aside.
  2. Brown the meats in a skillet, breaking up the large pieces as you go. Drain the fat and set aside.
  3. Sweat the garlic and onions in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a sauce pan. Add the jars of sauce and the seasonings. You’ll add about a tablespoon of each of the spices except salt and black pepper — add just a little of those. Drop in a bay leaf and let it simmer for a half hour. When time’s up, remove the bay leaf, add a little sugar to suit your personal taste and once you’ve got it down, add the meat. I’ll simmer this for a bit too, although with hours to come in the slow cooker, it’s probably not necessary.
  4. Haul out your crock pot and get ready to layer. You’ll go in this order: meat, noodles and cheese, and you’ll have enough stuff to repeat that for three layers. Note that the noodles are just straight out of the box; break them up to fit a full layer each time. The crock pot will take care of cooking them.
  5. Cook on low for four or five hours.

When you’re done, cut out a wedge of lasagna and drop it on your plate. If you’re lucky, you’ll have one whole side of that wedge kind of brown and crisp like those ridiculous brownie pans that are arranged so every piece is an end piece. Make a salad, open a bottle of red wine and go to town.

No oven necessary.

chump? not so much.

uva

After watching Texas Tech absolutely lock down Michigan State in Saturday’s semifinal, Sports Chump — if he had been following the possible outcomes of the Thirteenth Practically Annual Uncle Crappy NCAA Final Four Challenge (Brought To You By Piper’s Pub) — was probably sweating.

Mr. Chump picked a high score in the final, so if it came down to the tiebreaker, his pick was looking a little rough.

The Chump and Scooter From The Land of  Suburban Shooting Guards both finished with six points, on the strength of UVA making it to the title game. Scooter’s tiebreaker total was 136 points — a feasible guess as it turned out, given Tech’s defensive strength. Chump’s tiebreaker total was 164 points, which, as previously mentioned, would require more offense than Tech generally allows.

And here’s the interesting thing. At the end of regulation, the score was tied at 68 — or a combined total of 136 points.

Scooter? I’m sorry. You were so close.

But the 26 points scored in overtime gave this year’s TPAUCNFFC (BTYBPP) title to Sports Chump. I know Mr. Chump is named Chris, and that he lives in the Tampa, Florida, area — Jackets in seven, by the way — but we’ve never met in person. Mr. Chump, the choice is yours — if you’re going to be in Pittsburgh anytime soon, I’ll be happy to offer you tips on spending $50 at Piper’s Pub; if you have a local pub or brewery where fifty bucks might come in handy, I can PayPal you or send you a check — if that’s the case,
email me the pertinent details.

I wasn’t going to do AUCNFFC this year. But once again, it made the tournament more fun than it would be if I were just watching my office brackets go down in flames. Will I do it again next year? Uh. Maybe?

(Will I post anything on Uncle Crappy between now and then? C’mon, guys — let’s not get too crazy here.)

Regardless of what happens here in March 2020, I appreciate your participation, your support, and your lousy basketball picks — I mean, I almost won this thing myself.

Thanks, yinz.

it’s blutarsky time.

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I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like the wreckage of Thirteenth Practically Annual Uncle Crappy NCAA Final Four Challenge (Brought To You By Piper’s Pub), in terms of how many people we’re going to honor with a Blutarsky Award here in just a sec.

Chalky picks only work if the higher seeds win, and the higher seeds failed to do that last weekend. Carolina. Duke. The Aforementioned Basketball School Up North. All dumped on their keisters before making the Final Four.

So who might win this thing? No one — not a single TPAUCNFFC (BTYBPP) contestants correctly picked the Final Four. But nevertheless, there are a few possibilities:

Four plus (Two correct Final Four picks and the possibility for more points):

  • Uncle Crappy (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA)

Two plus (One correct Final Four pick and the possibility for more points):

  • Socialist Joe
  • Dr. Scooter
  • Breaking Brews
  • Sports Chump
  • Ethel
  • Kelsey
  • The Other Scooter

Four and done (Two correct Final Four picks but no more points possible):

  • Curl Girl Michelle

Two and done (Two correct Final Four picks but no more points possible):

  • Lorenzo
  • HP

Before we move on, boys and girls, I would ask that you recall The Crappy Rule, as outlined in the contest’s initial post a couple weeks back. It says, in part:

If I were to come out on top of my own contest (and believe me, boys and girls, there is very little chance of that happening), the Piper’s gift card would be awarded to the next runner up (although I retain full bragging rights, which I would exercise almost daily until next year’s contest).

So pay attention if you still have points coming — you’re still in this thing.

And then … we have the people who most definitely are not still in this thing. You have managed to achieve the ultimate in college basketball futility … and for that, you deserve an award.

animalhousebelushi

A Blutarsky Award.

Why does a college basketball pool have an award named for a fictional character from Animal House? For this one line, which perfectly describes your TPAUCNFFC (BTYBPP) performance:

Blutarsky Award winners (No correct Final Four picks and no points):

  • Otimemore
  • Expatpghgirl
  • Aunt Annoyed Angel
  • Kewyson
  • Redbuppy
  • PghRugbyRef
  • Sara Without An H
  • Lunchbox Birdshit
  • Juan

Thank you for playing, Blutarsky people. And good luck to the rest of you.

we don’t suck.

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At least, not yet.

Thanks in part to some pretty chalky entries — and I am as guilty of this as anyone, boys and girls — most of the contestants in Thirteenth Practically Annual Uncle Crappy NCAA Final Four Challenge (Brought To You By Piper’s Pub) are in pretty good shape going into Sweet Sixteen weekend.

But don’t worry, boys and girls — there is still plenty of time to screw this up.

I haven’t done any calculations, but I took a quick spin through the list, with the idea of providing a quick update. Here’s how it looks so far:

Final Four is intact:

  • Socialist Joe
  • Otimemore
  • Aunt Annoyed Angel
  • Kewyson
  • Breaking Brews
  • Lorenzo
  • Sports Chump
  • Curl Girl Michelle
  • PghRugbyRef
  • Scooter (not doctor)
  • Sara without an H
  • Uncle Crappy

Three left:

  • Lunchbox Birdshit
  • Dr. Scooter
  • Redbuppy
  • HP (who never actually told me who’s winning this whole thing)
  • Kelsey

Two left:

  • ExpatPghGirl
  • Ethel

One remaining:

  • Juan

The Sweet Sixteen games get underway shortly, kids. I hope this remarkable streak continues … but I doubt it will. And Blutarsky is lurking off in the distance.

 

 

 

 

riding — and asking — again.

cobert

I shouldn’t be surprised that we’re here again.

“Here” is waiting to see whether the just announced intention by the current White House to kill the Affordable Care Act is going to pick up any steam. “Here” is wondering whether type II diabetes will be classified as a pre-existing condition somewhere down the line. “Here” questioning what I’d do if my insurance provider, suddenly unburdened by the regulations of Obamacare, would subject me to coverage limits.

And, ultimately, “here” is me on my bike later this year, riding in the Pittsburgh edition of the American Diabetes Association’s Tour de Cure and raising money so all of the other “heres” won’t matter.

I’ve talked to you guys about this stuff before, when I did the same ride up near Butler two years ago. At that point, we were in the first year of the Trump presidency and the future of Obamacare was uncertain, to say the least.

That part calmed down a bit — until very recently, anyway — but those worries were replaced by new ones … like the cost of the drugs people with diabetes rely on to manage the disease and, you know, keep us alive.

Back then, I was using injections of Lantus — a brand of insulin — each day as the primary treatment for the disease. I’m now using daily shots of Victoza to do the same thing. It helps — my latest A1C reading was 6.5, which is close to half of what it was when I was diagnosed — but it comes at a cost.

I am so fortunate — for me, that cost is largely borne by my insurance provider. If you’re underinsured, or if you have no insurance at all, you could find yourself on the hook for the full price of a three-pen box of Victoza — and that, boys and girls, costs just under $1,000. And you’d need 12 of those boxes to get you through a full year. Plain old insulin is a bargain by comparison, at $400 per box or roughly $1,200 a year.

Add to that the potential for losing insurance if the ACA goes away. Or being told by your insurance company that your rates are going to double because of your pre-existing condition. Or that we’re going to give you a thousand bucks a year to manage your diabetes, but you’re responsible for everything else after that. If that happens, even people who have good insurance could be in trouble.

The solution is the same now as it is then: Let’s not wait to see what happens in Washington. Let’s get the American Diabetes Association the money it needs to fund research and find a cure. Follow this link to my Tour de Cure page, where I will dazzle you with even more facts and, not coincidentally, you can make a donation. I’m hoping to raise $1,000, and anything you can give — ANYTHING — will be a huge help.