Monday, April 7, 2008

What not to eat (part 2)

Cucumber maki + ketchup + the remains of your youngest daughter's chicken nuggets = no.



What not to eat (part 1)

For much of the '90s, I tried (and, ultimately, failed) to live as a vegetarian. In recent years, I went through a pescatarian transition period, and now -- even though I choose fish or no meat whenever I can -- I'll eat pretty much whatever anyone puts in front of me. The rationale for that is that my ethical obligation to the people closest to me -- i.e., anyone who would cook for me -- is greater than my ethical obligation to lower species.

But now I wonder. The ecological arguments against meat may be more powerful than the ethical arguments against meat. They're also arguments wrapped in self-preservation: eat less meat, save your body, save the planet.

I knew I had food issues, but these are issues.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Jewels and Binocular readers: create your own recipe

I made the greatest turkey burgers of all time a few weeks back. I was about to write down the recipe (yes, I realize I should have done this then; don't go all GTD on me) when I realized I don't remember whether my secret ingredient was soy sauce or teriyaki sauce. Would anyone out there like to make a suggestion as to which I should try next time?


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Better living through food hacking

Over the next week or so, I'll be writing quite a bit about my two weeks late last month and early this month in California, at TED and ETech. (Took me a bit to recover and the renovation at our house is about to deprive us of our only working shower.)

Monday was cooking day here at Jewels and Binoculars and it's Tuesday already, so I'd better get back on track. Let's talk about food hacking, which unites three areas of my interest and incompetence: cooking, technology, and taking things apart. The ETech tutorial on the topic, led by Marc Powell, was a mindblower. Food hacking takes the ideas behind technology hacking -- participation, dispersion, experimentation, and a general distrust of authority and centralized systems -- and brings them into the kitchen. The three-hour-long tutorial, which included dishes with ingredients like liquid nitrogen, was all about joy and testing. And -- lucky for me -- it was all about celebrating screwing up and seeing what happens. Powell went on for a while on why cooking with people was superior to cooking for people. As he put it: "Ever eat a Lunchable? Do you think anyone enjoyed making that?" When I lined up to receive something that had been cooked onstage, I felt, for the first time even, like I was on a communion line.

The second half of the session got weird. We saw randomly generated menus and restaurant menus with plenty of insect dishes. We heard exegeses on pickled crab fat and how to cook fake blood for vegan goths. We learned a little about coffee hacks (see many of Powell's hacks in this wiki). We learned that it's pronounced "feelo" dough, not "feyelo" dough. We heard about placenta kabobs and other gross food experiences.

Hmm, what's for dinner?

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Quote of the day

"That's the best lasagna you ever made." --J.K.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Harp ... or oven mitt?

harp or oven mittOver the weekend, I had the great pleasure of hearing Lydia sing with a chorus and small orchestra at Sanders Theater. During the intermission, the harpist wrapped up her instrument and wheeled it away. Since Monday is supposed to be cooking day at Jimmy Guterman's Jewels & Binoculars, I should note that her wrapped harp looked to me like a giant oven mitt.
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My novel and the kitchen: Two worlds collide

I know it's procrastination (like blogging isn't?), but sometimes when I should be working on the novel, I read about working on novels. Raymond Carver once said "You have to decide whether you're a reader or a writer." I guess I'm still working on that.

Last night, when I should have been writing, I started James Wood's How Fiction Works. I'm still early on, but since two of the first characters he quotes are Maisie Farange (from Henry James's What Maisie Knew) and Mr. Mallard (from Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings), two characters I have come to love over the years, I suspect this will be a good read/distraction/whatever.

Swirling through my head today is the Henry James epigram with which Wood kicks off the book: "There is only one recipe -- to care a great deal for the cookery."

What a lovely observation. Without respect for our tools, the products of our tools won't be worthwhile.

This dovetails nicely with a welcome non-fire-extinguisher-requiring cooking experience I had yesterday. I made Jane the North African cauliflower soup from one of the Moosewood cookbooks, a recipe with which I've had success in the past. I wanted to be careful to respect the instructions and I followed them much more closely than usual.

So I was disappointed when the soup turned out noticeably thinner than usual. I was nervous -- did I put in two few potatoes? too much bouillon? -- but Jane complemented me on it.

Jimmy: But it's not thick enough.

Jane: Yes it is. You usually make it too thick.

Respect your tools. Sometimes it's the Moosewood collective offering them up, sometimes it's Henry James. And sometimes the person opposite from you at the kitchen table will be kind enough to let you know if, at last, you finally paid attention.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Before I can cook it, I have to get it

Last night was taco night. As of this week, 80 percent of my family eats poultry. And I forgot to cook the chicken. Which reminds me...

In college, I briefly held a job as a scooper at the local iced cream parlor. I endured four weeks of $2.15-per-hour training (because I was a trainee, they didn't have to pay me minimum wage). All I remember from the condescending training (except for my pay rate -- interesting what stays with you) was that the local chain's trainer repeatedly screamed at us to "never touch your damn faces in front of a customer!" He gave us so many ways to avoid touching your face (one was, "think about the Eagles winning the Super Bowl") that touching our faces was all we could think of, at work and elsewhere.

On a Saturday night in October, I went live. I closed the shop that night, so I didn't have to start working until 6pm, when traffic was light. By 8pm, I was so flustered that I gave someone a banana split with one ingredient missing: the banana. Two weeks later, I had another job, one not involving food preparation.

I recently thought of the look on the customer's face as I handed him a banana-free banana split, and I thought of how cooking is about preparation: not just preparation in the kitchen, but beforehand. If you don't have the right ingredients on hand, you can't do anything. No chicken, no complete meal.

I was not born to go to the supermarket. That's why I'm grateful for, a service (well it's not quite a service, it's a PDF download of the "ultimatest grocery list" that organizes food products into categories and reminds me what I'm supposed to buy. (It also provided the raw material for a Found-ish book of grocery lists.)

So I have help deciding what to buy.
Thanks to Bittman and Kokernak, I have help deciding what to do in the kitchen with what I buy.
So why do I still forget the chicken? And, more important, why am I still a chicken in the kitchen?


Monday, February 4, 2008

Quote of the day

"I'd like a hamburger and an Alka Seltzer." -- Warren Oates, in Two Lane Blacktop (1971)

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Food hacking

Why did I take a job with O'Reilly Media? In part, because the company puts on conferences with sessions like Kitchen Hack Lab: Food Hacking for Techies. I'm going to return home a new kind of cook!


Strawberries. That's what I need to prepare. Strawberries.

Someone send me this URL as a response to last week's cooking post. On first look, I'm afraid it looks like a porn-site-in-training, but the desperate will take advice from anyone.

Update, after spending a mere two minutes on the terrible site: Well, almost anyone. Avoid.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Oven, not microwave

Christmas was mixed (some of the presents I gave missed the mark), but the food was great, so the next day I decided to heat up some leftovers.

The following photograph was taken on December 26.

oven, not microwave

What you have just seen is not a still from a Grade L monster movie. To understand what it is, you must understand our kitchen.

The centerpiece of our desperately-in-need-of-an-update kitchen is a double oven manufactured and installed in the early '80s, roughly around the time A Flock of Seagulls ruled the world. The top half of the double oven has a double function. In addition to serving as a conventional oven, it also works as a microwave. If you're not paying attention, it's possible to turn on the conventional oven and think you're turning on the microwave function. No one in our house had paid that little attention in the eight-and-one-half years we've lived here until I did the day after Christmas. I'm using this photo as a warning/example/reminder (it's the power-on image on my mobile phone this week) of what may happen if you're not paying attention.

(P.S. It just hit me that the melted-plastic image above feels like the poor cousin of the image on this post on Leaf-Stitch-Word. Coincidence?)


Friday, January 25, 2008

Jimmy Guterman's Jewels and Binoculars: new (and, perhaps, improved) 2008 edition

Hello to both of you who've waited for this humble weblog to return. I'm going to try something different this year. As those closest to me know, structure and I are not close friends. Everything reminds me of something else, which reminds me of something else, which ... well, you get the idea. No structure. If I'm going to stick to blogging for more than a little while this time, I suspect it will be only if I create a structure that encourages me to post here almost every day. And a different topic every day keeps this blogger unbored.

So, here's the structure that I'm going to attempt:

Every Monday, I will post about Cooking. [insert pause for laughter.] Yeah, I know, but hear me out. When I look at the things about myself that I want to improve, cooking keeps coming up at the top of the list. Partly it's because I'm a lousy cook (married to an adventurous, imaginative one) and I want to become a better one. Partly it's because my failure in the kitchen often feels like a metaphor for other failures in my life. Just as last year my cryptic decision to post sentences here from my novel-in-progress helped me focus on writing every day, I'm hoping that chronicling my disasters and occasional successes in the kitchen will keep me focused. The possibility of public embarrassment remains a powerful motivator.

Every Tuesday, I will post something Work-Related. The vast majority of my writing these days is for my work at O'Reilly (and, to a much lesser degree, Harvard). On Tuesdays, I'll post something related to what I actually do for a living.

Every Wednesday, I will post the latest Greatest Song of All Time of the Week. No further explanation necessary.

Every Thursday, I will post something related to the Novel-in-Progress. They may be sentences from the work (currently, but tentatively, titled The Rock Star Next Door), they may be complaints about the process, they may be lessons I've learned.

Every Friday, I will post nothing, probably, because Man was not meant to blog with the weekend coming so soon.

Random Crap can appear any day, as it is, er, random.

I will also tag each post, to make searching by topic easier, and to help anyone coming here who wants to peruse, say, the music posts but none of the cooking posts.

Seeya Monday...

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