The Marginal Utility of a Dollar

I’m currently in the middle of reading Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.Hailed as a definitive book on the distribution of wealth of our time, the book is quite a hefty tome, every page loaded with so much information that I find myself re-reading many pages and having to set the book down to absorb something new.

Utility levels out as more and more "investment" is spent.

Utility levels out as more and more “investment” is spent.

I’ve never study economics before, so many of the ideas introduced by Piketty are new to me. Thankfully, he doesn’t assume his readers have a background in economics and takes the time to break down basic concepts. I was particularly interested in “Marginal Utility,” or the measurement of gain or loss on an expenditure. In the context of Piketty’s book, he discusses the Marginal Utility of invested capital (wealth). In his words, if one invests $100 in agricultural land and can produce $5 worth of food from this investment, the marginal utility would be this $5 of product. Pretty simple right? Now here’s where it gets interesting: while we can safely assume that investing another $100 would yield an additional $5. What about an additional $1000? Not so fast. At some point, Marginal Utility will decrease. You can only squeeze so much food out of your available land. Perhaps that last $1000 will only yield an extra $5 of food, greatly decreasing its overall utility. Incidentally, this is what happens to an economy with tons of excess capital floating around. You get more and more investors chasing fewer and fewer yield opportunities, and consequently investment returns go down.

Can we apply Marginal Utility to personal finance? Each of us has a limited number of dollars to spend (unless your Bezos or Buffet, or Gates. In that case, would you like to sponsor my blog? I promise high marginal utility!). Therefore, it would be prudent to spend each dollar with an eye to maximizing its Marginal Utility. For this concept to fit personal consumption, we merely need to change the definition of utility to a more basic understanding of the word, Utility as in “does the job,” or even “happiness.”

Burger utility

Let’s say you’re hungry and there’s a burger selling for $1. The burger costs you 1 dollar, but would easily yield 2 units of happiness (I realize this is arbitrary, but bear with me). You finish your burger and are no longer hungry, but you’re also not stuffed. There’s another burger for sale and, you’re in luck, you have a second dollar! The second burger costs $1, but perhaps now only yields a single unit of happiness. The Marginal Utility has decreased. You’re pretty full. There’s a third burger for sale. You’re appetite knows no bounds and you pony up your third and final dollar. What’s the marginal utility of this third burger? At the very least it hovers near zero (you’re already stuffed, will you enjoy a third burger? Will the calories do you any good?), more likely it has a negative marginal utility.

This basic concept works across all aspects of our budget. Our first dollars have great Marginal Utility, buying us necessary food, shelter, clothing, and transportation that greatly increase our happiness, fulfilling needs. As we spend more dollars, however, the Marginal Utility levels out, taking more and more dollars to acheive less and less happiness/utility.

My partner and I have found this concept very useful when applied to a household budget. Take for example, going out to eat. Our first night out-to-eat yields great Marginal Utility. But adding more nights out reduces that utility. By the third meal out, we may find ourselves actually longing for home cooked meals. The dollars spent on those latter meals have horrible marginal utility. We now space our nights out accordingly.

This concept is incredibly flexible. Take backpacking tents. I was recently looking to purchase a new backpacking tent that would fit 2 people and a dog. Zpacks makes an amazing Cuben fiber tent, the Triplex, that only weighs 23.8 ounces. It also costs $700 dollars and is made from a material that is not known being durable. This is a tent used by people who thru hike long trails like the AT or PCT. On the other end of spectrum is the REI Quarter Dome 3 which weighs 4lbs 3oz and costs $379. In the end, I went for a middle option, the Copper Spur UL 3. The Zpacks is clearly overkill for my weekend backpacking needs and therefore the Marginal Utility of such a purpose would be poor. Why not purchase the REI tent? While its marginal utility would’ve been the highest (dollars spent for satisfactory shelter), I found the extra weight savings of the Copper Spur provided enough extra utility to justify the increased costs. The key is to always weigh the marginal utility of every dollar.

Don’t get lost in the race to purchase every greater things, to spend extravagantly over tiny differences in products. Often the cheapest option isn’t the best, but neither is the most expensive. I, like most, like having the best things, but do I really need a bike designed for Lance Armstrong, boots meant for fighting forest fires, or a Goretex jacket meant for skiing the alps? Do you need all-wheel-drive when you live somewhere where it only snows a half dozen times a year? Perhaps those dollars would be better spent by staying home on snowy days (or waiting till the roads are plowed), and putting those extra dollars into a lifetime supply of hot chocolate.

Marginal Utility is a concept we should all apply to 0ur life. Whenever making a decision or purchase, make sure you weigh the marginal utility of your options.

Evelo: a series of unfortunate events

Evelo Orion E-bike

My Evelo Orion electric bike recently passed 1500 miles on the odometer. If things had gone according to plan, I would’ve hit this milestone in just over two months of commuting to work. Simple math shows that a mere 5 days of riding would clock in at 185 miles. I originally purchased this bike in late September 2015. So why am I reaching 1.5k miles 6 months later?

To answer that question we need to rewind to late October. After a crazy two weeks of international travel and moving, we finally settled into a routine. It was a cold, rainy autumn day and I had a team meeting at 8:30AM. I was 10 miles into my commute, slogging up a soggy Maryland hill when my right pedal started to wiggle. Pulling over, I determined that the entire right crank-arm was a few turns from falling off. With 8.5 miles ahead of me to work and a 2 mile walk to the metro, I was in quite a pickle. Thankfully, a co-worker was nearby, on his way into the office and had his work van which could house my monstrosity of a bike (this will become an issue again). I made it to my meeting, but now had a serious bike issue on my hands.

I borrowed a work truck to get the bike to the shop where they took a look, assuring me that that crank-arms can come loose from time to time. He advised that I routinely tighten it before it gets loose and sent me on my way.

The next day, less than 2 miles into my commute, the crank arm came loose again. Thankfully the return walk home was much more feasible. The bike shop took a look: The crank arm’s square bolt hole was rounded off. In the moment we chalked it up to poor workmanship and replaced the crank arm. Evelo picked up the tab and off I went. At this point, through the course of repairs and needing to lug my bike to the shop, I was approaching December without a single full week of riding under my belt.

Good crank-arm on top. Rounded out/damaged one on the bottom.

Good crank-arm on top. Rounded out/damaged one on the bottom.

I made it to work one more time. On the way home, at the halfway mark, the right crank arm came loose. This time I didn’t have a coworker to pick me up. The Metro was over 3 miles away and wouldn’t allow bikes until 7PM (it was close to 4PM). I had 10 miles to home. Uber XL was my only option. Turns out the Orion eBike will just barely fit in the back of a Suburban SUV with the seats down. That ride home clocked in at $81! That’s a pretty expensive emergency ride home. Thankfully again, Evelo picked up the tab.

John @ Evelo decided it was time to replace the whole spool. Something about the tolerances and machinery of the spool were stripping crank arms left and right. He shipped me a new spool and new crank arms. According to John, replacing a the spool is pretty complicated, akin to changing the transmission on a car. Capital Hill Bikes had recently completed another spool replacement for Evelo. John wanted them to do mine as well. So I motored down to the bike shop in Capital hill (and yes, I really did motor – cranked the electric throttle for 3 miles, feeling like a tool the whole way). The repairs were relatively quick, taking less than an afternoon. I biked home thinking my troubles were finally behind me.

Nope. On my first post-repair bike commute, as I entered the bermuda triangle of bike commutes (Somewhere between Rockville pike and Tuckerman road. This is the half-way of my commute and almost all of the breakdowns have occurred in this 2 mile stretch), my pedal fell off. Upon closer inspection, Evelo bikes have right and left side specific pedals. My bike-shop bro (and he was a bro, let me tell you) had installed the pedals in reverse, causing my one pedal to thread off. This time the breakdown occurred within a mile of the metro, so I was able to motor to Grosvener-Strathmore and weasel my way onto a rush hour train with my bike. There it sat at work until I could get the right tools to remove the pedals and reinstall.

Or not. It turns out that Bikeshop Bro stripped the threads of the crank arms when installing the pedals incorrectly. Evelo ships me new pedals and new crank arms. I take them to the local bike shop to install.

Before I can test ride the bike, we get the mother of all storms, Snowzilla 2016. I wait a few more weeks for the snow to thaw and the bike paths to become navigable (Hey Maryland, Bike paths need plowing too!).

I commute to work, and *holds breath* wait for it, NOTHING BREAKS!

That was 2 month ago. I waited to write this post. I was terrified of jinxing something. But now, with 1,500 miles on the odometer, I think I’ve past the hurdle.

Believe it or not, I would recommend Evelo. Despite the mechanical problems, many of the mistakes and hiccups were attributable to local bike-shops screw ups. The whole time Evelo shipped me new parts, paid my bike-shop bills and even covered my $80 UberXL trip.

Later this month I’ll write an in-depth review of the bike itself.

Oh yeah, one more thing did break, but it didn’t have a bearing on the operation of the bike. The plug to seal the charging port broke pretty much immediately. Electrical tape resolved it easily enough:




Banana Pudding with Vanilla Wafers

Is winter hitting below the belt? Are your superpowers being sapped by the slushy snow and frigid winds?

Well, I have a suggestion. Make a homemade pudding. Its simple. It’s delicious. And I guarantee all who come near will eagerly tie a cape around your shoulders.

Pudding that gives you powers.

Pudding power.

Banana Pudding with Vanilla Wafers

*Shamelessly inspired/adapted from Smitten Kitchen.


  • 3⁄4 cup (150 grams) sugar (I prefer coconut sugar)
  • 1⁄4 cup (35 grams) cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 3 1⁄2 cups (830 ml) milk, preferably whole
  • 2 tablespoons (30 grams) butter, diced
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) spiced rum
  1. Combine sugar, cornstarch, salt and yolks together. Whisk in milk.
  2. Heat, stirring often until simmering. Continue simmering/stirring until custard has thickened.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in butter, vanilla and rum.
  4. Chill in fridge for a few hours to overnight.


  • 1 cup (200 grams) coconut sugar
  • Seeds from a fresh vanilla bean
  • 1/2 cup (115 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 1/3 cups (176 grams) all-purpose flour
  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Combine sugar and vanilla bean. Beat in butter using mixer until creamed together. Add eggs and vanilla. Add baking powder and salt. Finally, add all purpose flour. Mix until all combined.
  3. Scoop teaspoon-sized balls of dough onto cookie sheet. Bake 10-11 minutes.
  4. Let cookies cool.


  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons coconut sugar
  • As much banana as you desire
  1. Combine cream and sugar.
  2. Whisk until soft peaks form. I use a stand mixer cuz lazy.
  3. Slice banana.


Assemble pudding, wafers, banana and whipped cream in small glasses. Half-pint mason jars work really well and screw lids allow for easy transportation.



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The Concrete Block Smokehouse – a DIY approach


As befits the American Way, when choosing to buy something new, we’re barraged with options, everything from the nearly disposable to the insanely expensive. Meat smokers are no exception. On one end of the spectrum, I could spend a few hundred dollars and get a barrel smoker, or a few hundred more for an electric smoker. As a renter, both sound awesome, but the price point was really out of reach; I was adamant that I save my dollars for purchasing more meat instead.

I’m in the middle of reading Stanley Marianski’s excellent Home Production of Quality Meats and Sausages, a true classic of the sausage making world. Marianski’s book details a number of “backwoods” style smokehouses that seemed ideal for my budget. Included was the Concrete Block Smokehouse

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The Concrete Block Smokehouse

Built with 16x16x8 standard concrete blocks, this DIY smokehouse is about as simple as it gets. Think adult legos.

First I needed to clear away the grass and make sure that my foundation area was more-or-less level.smokehouse groundwork

Then, you start building the walls of the smokehouse.


Note that all blocks are stacked with the hollow sections facing up except for one block on the bottom. This one block will be the intake for the smoke, allowing the draw to enter and exit up the smoker.


Continue stacking, alternating configuration so blocks overlap.


Marianski’s plan calls for 6 levels of block, but I didn’t have enough loading capacity when buying block to get 6 more, so I made do with stacking 5 high. After finishing the Chimeny, its time to build the fire chute.


The chute extends out from the single sideways block. Stack the sides so that smooth facing block sides are on the inside, channeling smoke into the chimney. The small broken concrete pieces are where I will build my fire.

The Concrete Block plans allow for two methods for hanging. Method one, you tie your meat onto sticks that you then lay across the top blocks. This is how I intend to use the smoker at first. Later I’ll experiment with staggering the blocks so a lip is created and I can insert a screen on grill grate.

Finally, a smokehouse isn’t complete until you give it a roof. I just used to old boards lying around our yard. They don’t make a very tight seal, which is exactly what I want, ensuring a great draft up through the chimney.


More details of my first smoke to come, but for now rest assured, this thing really works! Excellent draw and heat is generated by this simple, affordable design.


A peak inside the smoker. Flames are roaring through from the fireplace. The haze in this picture is due to all of the smoke.



Donald Trump and Hitler

Hitler Salute

Donald Trump Salute

I don’t think it takes much of a leap to make a connection between Donald Trump’s current spate of fame and popularity and Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1920-1930’s Germany. Both Facebook posts and the Media have publicly trumpeted the comparison.

As a history enthusiast who just finished reading “The coming of the Third Reich” by Richard J. Evans, I wanted to run through the exercise myself, to compare our current reality to the situation that led to Nazi Germany.

The lowest hanging fruit, of course, lies in comparing the men themselves. Charisma, ambition and a ruthless sense of personal competition sum up both men quite accurately. While it is true that Hitler was of a poorer background, aspects of their rise follow a similar trajectory.

The Man is also the Movement

Cult of personality

Both have created a cult of personality. Many don’t realize this, but the National Socialist German Worker’s Party (Nazi’s for short) began life as a multi-faceted organization. Within the party, views ranged widely from the fascist dogma we now identify with Hitler, to a more socialist/communistic bent. Hitler spent the vast majority of the organization’s early years attacking opposing party leaders and entrenching himself at the center of the movement’s leadership. Trump, by comparison, seems to have had an easier time of it. Unlike Hitler, I believe Trump got further out in front of his movement’s momentum, able to take the reigns without any serious competition. What remains to be seen, however, is if Trump can successfully create the cult of personality that Hitler famously achieved. He’s certainly trying with his comments of self aggrandizement, his refusal to lay out policy specifics and focus on his personal abilities as his primary qualification for president. Trump supporters, just like those who supported the Nazis, already believe strongly in certain world views. If Trump can convince his followers that their casus belli and his person are indistinguishable, he will have made great headway towards a Hitler-esque situation.

Both men put personal loyalty above all else. This is a feature of Demagogues as whole. Men like Hitler or Trump are not held accountable by their staff. Instead, they are enabled, deferred to and protected by people first and foremost loyal to their leader. Furthermore, while the dear leader himself is above party politics, those in the second ring of power will violently clash for position, jockying and competing to curry favor and influence with the dear leader.

Both rode popular discontent to gain power. While the Nazi’s did have a strong following of fanatics (especially in the early years), most Germans who voted for the Nazis were casting a protest vote. The Weimar Republic of the late 1920 and early 1930s suffered through a series of ineffectual coalition governments and suffered crippling inflation followed by the Great Depression. Two political parties rose during this time of strife, the Nazis and the Communists*. We have also suffered through a recent recession, one that has left behind many in the working class. Economic disenfranchisement is a significant factor in the rise of men like Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler.

Harnessing Racism

Trump Propaganda

The rise of both Trump and Hitler were predicated on predisposed prejudice. Hitler did not create anti-semitism any more than Trump can now be credited with Anti-immigration or Islamaphobia. Both men only amplified the natural fears and suspicions present in their followers. Nazi Germany wouldn’t have been possible if the majority of Germans didn’t already hold preconceived notions, even mild notions, about Jews. Compare this to the present. While the extreme racism of Trump supporters may feel alien to many of us, consider that there is already a link present in our minds linking Islam and terrorism, a link between mexican laborers and illegal immigration. These mental models are already widespread in our culture and familiar to us. Men like Trump, like Hitler, merely take the present mental models and twist them to extremes, replacing analytic thought with emotional heuristic stereotypes.

A Culture of Violence

Member of the Michigan Militia

Member of the Michigan Militia

Both movements were founded on violence. At recent political rallies, those who publicly protest against Trump have been beaten-up and assaulted by his supporters with the backing and support of the crowd. The Nazi’s were also a violent bunch. Their Paramilitary wing, the SA, or brownshirts, were infamous for assaulting political opponents. Thugs of every nature flocked to join the SA for the sole purpose of perpetuating violence. In addition, the Social Democratic government reluctantly tolerated this right wing violence while cracking down hard on all similar Leftist (Communist) violence. SA men got the message and ramped up their terror in relative impunity. Sound familiar? Currently Ammon Bundy and his right wing paramilitary are occupying a Oregonian Government building without any interference by federal officials. Dylan Roof killed 9 people in Charleston for overtly poltical/racial reasons and was pointedly not labeled a terrorist. Those Trump supporters who were caught on camera assualting protestors? Last I heard, the local police refused to file charges and arrest anyone, instead blaming the protestor. This environment of appeasement will only encourage more violence from Trump’s base, which will only create more fear. Compare this to the violent crackdowns on Occupy Wallstreet, the protests in Ferguson, or Blacklivesmatter. There is a disparity in response and it is real.

On Violence: although Hitler supported the actions of the Brownshirts, he kept his distance from them, allowing for plausible deniability. His orders came through veiled speeches. Rhetoric was general and vague, interpreted by the paramilitaries into action. Hitler could always deny having any knowledge of his supporter’s actions. This gave him a veneer of respectability and legitimacy with opposition parties. Donald Trump has taken to this tactic as well. When supporter assaulted opponents, he merely shrugs his shoulders and says they are “very passionate.” This is coded support, that along with his general rhetoric, seeks to direct the violent wing of his organization without being directly linked.

Democracy Unhinged

Few realize that at the height of their electoral power, Hitler and his Nazi party received less than 40% of the popular vote. Far from expecting the public to sweep him into power, Nazi leadership understood that they would never gain majority support. Unfortunately for Germany, the Weimar Republic’s executive cabinet was appointed, not elected. Hitler was able to maneuver into the chancellorship without being elected. Furthermore, Weimar politicians enjoyed prosecutorial immunity while in office, allowing clear violations of the law to go unpunished. Herein lies some hope for our current situation. Demographics make it clear that Trump would struggle in a nationwide election. His base is not a demographic majority and could not win at the national level. American, unlike Weimar Germany, elects our top leadership and these same leaders are subject to prosecution if they break the law.

One last word of hope. The Weimar Republic, was at its core, a very young democracy. In all, it lasted only 14 years. Germans were not accustomed to Democracy and had yet to put their faith in its process. America, as a democratic nation of centuries, has a much deeper seated Democratic tradition. Demagogues have risen in our culture before and, just like before, we can defeat them once more.

*Two more interesting notes about the Nazis and Communists. As people lost faith in the Weimar Republic, politics became more polarized. People from working class urban centers flocked to the Communist party on the extreme left. Small business owners and rural workers flocked to the Nazi party on the far right. Critically, both parties did not believe in the Democratic process. Delegates from both parties ground the Reichstag (German equivalent of Congress) to a halt, purposefully disrupting governance and using parliamentary procedure to obstruct and stymy the Government’s effectiveness. In the middle, support for the moderate social democrats steadily eroded as they were unable to put together effective coalitions and push through legislation. Sound familiar? I can’t but help think of the Tea party, a group of right wing fundamentalists who have stated publicly that they want to defund the government and limit its powers, the party who shut down the government on multiple occasions. As Congress fails to legislate, more and more Americans lose confidence in the system and flock to ideological extremes. Momentum has shifted to politicians on the right (Ted Cruz, Trump) and on the left (Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren). Thankfully, one significant difference is that the left end of this spectrum still believes in governance through democracy.


Evelo Orion – unboxing an electric bike

Mr. Money Mustache inspired me to purchase an Electric Bike. In all honesty, I can’t hold it against him. He pointed me towards Credit Card churning (Where I’ve made thousands of dollars in cash back and travel points in less than a year) as well as budgeting, saving, investing and the general concept of Financial Independance. Enter the Evelo Orion Electric Bike

I have a 20 mile (to be technical 19.9) one-way commute to work. I’ve biked it a half dozen times, and while it is manageable with a regular bike, it takes roughly 2 hours, and leaves me pretty tired. Obviously I’m being a whiny pants – I would get in better shape doing it regularly, but I’m not keen to spend 4 hours a day commuting. My only other option is to use Metro (thanks DC for even making this an option), and while it cuts my commuting time nearly in half, it also costs $11.10 a day.

Thus, Mr. Money Mustache’s post about E-bikes was pitch perfect. I love biking and firmly believe, in most cases, a regular bike is all you need. But I have an edge case, the kind of situation where an E-bike makes perfect sense.

After doing my research I settled on Evelo’s Orion Electric Bicycle. It was slightly cheaper than the competition, an I-zip E3 Path+. While I couldn’t find a review of the Orion itself, reviews of other Evelo bikes were generally positive, and they seemed to have great customer service, something I certainly wanted buying such an expensive item over the internet.

Evelo was running a Labor Day sale, taking $200 off the purchase price and giving you a $200 Gift Card after delivery. Seemed pretty good considering I was already interested. In true Mustachian fashion, the last thing I needed to do was run the numbers. Like I said Metro = $11.10 a day, or $55.50 a week. Once I factored in Holidays, Vacation, snow days, and working from days, metro costs me roughly $2,442.00 a year. Yikes! The Evelo Orion, after the rebate, was going to cost me $2,494.00. Looks like the bike would nearly pay for itself after a year of use.


Evelo Orion Specs

  • Motor: Patented Brushless 250W Mid-Drive
  • Battery: Lithium Ion 36V12Ah (Upgraded over stock) ($200 extra)
  • Charger: 36V 110-220V Lithium Battery Charger (4-6 hours for a full charge)
  • Frame: Alluminum Alloy Front-Suspension (Leonis)
  • Fork: Suntour NCX
  • Wheels: 700C Double Wall Touring Rims
  • Tires: CST – 700c x 35c
  • Brakes: Tektro V-Brakes 836AL
  • Stem: Tonaro TDS-C215 Adjustable
  • Shifter: NuVinci N360 Hub (Upgraded over stock)($425 extra)
  • Lights: built-in Spinnga Front & Rear Lights
  • Computer: Speedometer, trip tracker, battery meter
  • Fenders
  • Full Rack
  • Range: 24- 48 Miles (depending upon how heavily you use the battery)

The bike arrived after a painfully long shipping period (or so it felt). Yikes this thing is big and heavy!

Evelo Bike box

I dug in.


Packed tight and secure.

Evelo out of the box

Finally out of the box

The battery and charger

The battery and charger


Battery close up






Starting to assemble.

Starting to assemble.

Assembly was pretty easy. First, attach the front wheel, secondly seat the handlebars and secure. Raise the seat and install the front fender/light. I have one little issue with the directions regarding the front install. According to Evelo’s manual, both the light and fender are supposed to hang off of the same threaded screw. Unfortunately, the light has a standoff bracket built into it which keeps it from cinching down on the fender. Without something to hold it in place, the fender rattles loose. The solution of course, was to install the fender on the backside of the fork which was easy enough and did the trick.


Finally I got the bike all assembled and rode it to work for the first time!

Evelo Orion

**Update: I’ve put roughly a month’s worth of solid riding on the bike. I’ll review it soon!

Upside-down Fire: Fire making for Dummies (like me!)

I have a very poor track record with fire. To be specific, I suck at building and starting fires. Perhaps I can blame my parents who detest camping (a running joke in my family was that our version of roughing it was the holiday inn), or perhaps I could blame my ineptitude on my pyromaniac friends who always took point when starting the campfire (Beta – looking at you buddy. Trevor – homemade napalm, really?). Whatever the case may be, I grew up with nary a fire to my name.

Imagine then, much to my chagrin, when I still failed to start a fire as a grown man. It was really humid and damp out, but then our camping neighbors gave us a firestarter, and STILL we couldn’t build a fire. Yikes. That was much harder for me and the LP (Life Partner) to explain away.

fire failure

This is what failure looks like. Even the dog is trying to hide after this failure.

That was why this past weekend, with night fast approaching, we faced our campsite fire-pit with great trepidation. Would we go toe-to-toe once more with Hephaestus and once more hang our heads in defeat? Smokey’s admonishments always made forest fires seem as if they stalked every stray spark or cigarette. We started to think the woods had been sprayed with fire retardent and we’d somehow missed the message.

Our first attempt failed. The wood pile was lackluster. Light was fading. Failure, like thick humidity, hung in the air. So, I suggested something I’d read about online once, something that seemed entirely counter-intuitive. What did we have to lose?

LP followed mydirections with her fair share of skepticism (Can you doubt her? The blind leading the deaf). Lo and behold, the upside down fire worked! We pinched ourselves to make sure we weren’t dreaming. We started a fire!

Finally some fire

With our next two fires we followed the same framework and, like clockwork, they burned. The Upside-down fire is a true beauty. No tinkering necessary, no endless poking or feeding the flames. This is a set-it-and-forget-it sort of fire. Build the thing, light it, and then enjoy the Rube-Goldberg-esque chain reaction catch fire. Even better than low maintenance, this method is very, very efficient. The remnants of one layer build the base that fires the next. In the end, nothing is left.

Here’s how its built:

Upside-down fire

All ready to go

Start with your biggest logs. Stack them tightly together in one horizontal row. Next, build a second layer, this time rotating 90 degrees so that they stack perpendicular. To anyone who has played with lincoln logs or Jenga, this should be familiar territory. As you build vertically, gradually reduce in size. Every level up should be slightly smaller wood. Once you’ve stacked your final layer of fine twigs, top it with a nest of kindling. Admittedly in the fire pictured below, I cheated and dropped a small, homemade firestarter in the middle (Cotton dipped in Petrolium Jelly FTW). As a recent fire-making dropout, I have no qualms about using whatever modern advantage I had at my disposal. The days of friction fires and solar maelstroms are way down the road. For now, I’m comfortable working towards mastery of this beautiful fire method.

Below are my burn pics. Watch as this puppy burns down, layer by layer.

Saturdays are better – Stuffed French Toast

I dunno about you, but I like starting my saturday mornings off with a special breakfast. We just had a mason jar of Chèvre sitting in the fridge thanks to Morgan’s trading acumen at a food swap, and delicious homemade jams gracing the counter. To me, these things mean stuffed french toast!

Finished French Toast

Stuffed French Toast

  • 4, one-inch-thick slices of bread
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • dash of vanilla
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • sweet and/or creamy spreads for filling (Jam, Jelly, Chèvre, Creme Fraiche, etc)
Sliced thick so you can stuff it.

Sliced thick so you can stuff it.

Step One. Cut 4 slices of one-inch-thick bread. Challah and Brioche are divine, and stale bread is better than fresh bread, but we had neither and weren’t deterred. Take each piece and slice horizontally, stop 1-half-inch before end, creating a bread pocket.

Aren't my knife skills pretty amazing? Cutting the pocket for the stuffing.

Aren’t my knife skills pretty amazing? Cutting the pocket for the stuffing.

Step Two. Take your filling, ideally something creamy, sweet or delicious. Goat cheese, icings, Creme Fraiche, jam, jelly, marmalade, compote, the list can go on and on. Spread your filling into the pocket and press shut. Resist stuffing it too full, as you don’t want filling leaking out in the pan.

Loaded with Peach Ginger Jam and Chèvre Cheese.

Loaded with Peach Ginger Jam and Chèvre Cheese.

Step Three. Beat together 2 eggs, 1 cup of milk, a tbsp of sugar, and a dash of vanilla. Place stuffed slices in a shallow baking dish and pour custard mixture over top. Soak for 15 minutes, flipping halfway through.

Soaking the stuffed bread in custard.

Soaking the stuffed bread in custard.

Step Four. Add a tbsp of Coconut Oil, Ghee or Vegetable Oil to a nonstick pan. Heat until you see ripples/waves in the oil. Fry french toast until brown on each side. Sprinkle with a little powdered sugar and serve with Maple syrup or whatever other syrup you’ve got.

After soaking, fry it up!

After soaking, fry it up!


Homemade Jam by my wonderful wife.

Homemade Jam by my wonderful wife.

Chèvre from Morgan's food swap.

Chèvre from Morgan’s food swap.

Rather than Maple Syrup, we topped our French toast with this buttermilk syrup.

Rather than Maple Syrup, we topped our French toast with this buttermilk syrup.

I always have an audience when cooking.

I always have an audience when cooking.

Lesson learned: Stuffed French toast doesn't last long.

Lesson learned: Stuffed French toast doesn’t last long.