Monthly Archives: April 2011

What are the Kitchen Essentials?

What do you absolutely need to have in a kitchen? What are the cooking tools you use daily?

My girlfriend is a very good cook who enjoys cooking. So she cooks great dinners every night, I’m very fortunate. I still cook during the day but the dishes are mundane. Between what I use for cooking and what I see that she’s used as I’m cleaning up, I’ve come up with a list of what we commonly use in our kitchen. This is our personal tool box:

An 8″ chef’s knife. It’s made by Global and we’ve had it for 5 years. In a supporting  role is a steel for maintaining the knife’s edge. The steel is old and I don’t know the brand but I use it every couple of days to maintain the knife’s sharp edge. We also wash the knife after using it and store it in a slot between cabinets to protect it. This seems to work; we’ve never sharpened it and it’s still wickedly sharp. And this 8″ chef’s knife is really the only knife either one of us uses for cooking.

12″ and 8″ Teflon saute pans. These guys get used so much that they’re replaced every year or so. The brand doesn’t seem to matter, they still wear out.

A bamboo spatula. We’ve had it forever. It’s what we use in the pans and for most stirring and severing too.

10″ Tongs. They’re as useful and used as often as the spatula. Ours has a built-in locking mechanism to keep them closed when they’re in the drawer.

Lemon squeezer. Very common in Mexico and it gets used a lot by us, mostly for limes which seem to get used in many dishes.

Large and medium size Pyrex mixing bowls. We use them for…mixing, and sometimes serving too.

14″ and  8″ cutting boards. For the last three years we’ve used boards by Epicurean. They’re thin manmade wood based cutting boards that are eco-friendly as well as knife edge friendly, you don’t want too hard a cutting board.

Scissors. Medium duty and sharp, they’re probably why we get along so well with just one knife.

Wine opener. A double hinged waiter’s friend type. No reason to use any other type, having been a waiter for many years I’ve used these to open hundreds of wine bottles, ‘nuf said.

Pepper grinder. Fresh ground pepper is good and we use it in almost every dish. We’re happy with an 8″ model by Peugeot that sports an all steel grinder, if you flip it, it’s like looking at the scary beak you see after you turn an octopus upside down.

Food storage. This system works really well. There are three different heights of plastic storage containers, they can nest into one another when they’re not being used and (that’s not all!) they all use the same size screw-on top. Very tidy, convenient, and easy. We turn away any other storage vessels approaching our shoreline, that’s how beloved the system is. Freedom from Tupperware chaos.

Appliances we use all the time are: a gas stove, microwave, blender, Cuisinart food processor, and once a week, every week, I use a Toddy cold drip coffee maker to make coffee for the week. We’re starting to use a Crockpot more and more.

The dishwasher is about 5’9″ and tips the scales at 70 kilos (about 155 lbs) and runs on meat and vegetables.

Teen Years

The teen years are strange. Mine were. Yours probably were too.

I see teens in the small Mexican town I live in and wonder if it’s still strange. I bet it is.

There was a young teenaged girl in our capoeira (martial arts) class but she’s not taking it anymore. She’s friendly and outgoing and became friends with my girlfriend and me. We tried to get her to continue taking capoeira classes, but she wanted to stop. Now we bump into her on the street sometimes and she’s seems ok. But to us she seems to be running amuck – hanging out with boys who are probably too old for her, for instance.

We sound like old farts, we aren’t her parents, and she’ll probably be fine. But we like her and just want her to pass through her teen years as unscathed as possible. She has a Mexican parent and an American parent, so she has a foot in both worlds and is bilingual. This is important only because gives her more options and information than is available to her spanish only speaking friends in a sleepy little town. Just like small towns in the States, there’re aren’t lots of options for teens here.

I can see the teen years look in her eyes, fueled by the hormonal shiftings and upheavals she’s starting to feel. She’s looking around her world trying to figure out her place in it, how much response she should return to attention for boys, and how to spend her free time. I didn’t know her before this year, but I’d bet she’s changing quickly. Schools here aren’t challenging and she’s sharp. She has two parents, but they give her a long tether. Being cute and flirty might open doors for her she doesn’t want to see behind yet.

That’s it, we’re going to look for her and get her back into capoeira class while there’s still time.

Making Cream Rise?

The cream is supposed to rise to the top. Is it just due to natural talent or can it be taught? Nature or nurture?

In  his book, “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell claims experts are forged through 10,000 hours of practice. From lawyers to computer whizzes, the folks at the top of the heap, all had put in at least 10,000 hours worth of practice doing what they eventually became the best at.

For example, how do some of the top violinists train?  Do they practice all day? Are they multi tasking? How do young rising stars in the world of violinists make it to the top?

Here’s one of the ways. In 1993 Ander Ericsson studied and interviewed young violinists. What he found was that the top young violinists who went on to successful careers all practiced the same way. First, they practiced in the morning. They utilized three sessions each morning. Each of the three sessions lasted no more than 90 minutes with a break between each session. Over the years the most successful players had accumulated more than 10,000 hours of practice.

There’s a guy who’s putting this idea to the test. The sample size for his test is small, he’s using himself as the subject of the experiment.

He’s spending six hours a day, six days a week, for six years, in an attempt to become an expert golf player.

Here’s an in-depth article from The St. Petersburg Times about his quest. In a nutshell, Dan Mclaughlin is a 31-year-old average sized guy who was sort of athletic in the past, but before starting his six-year long experiment he didn’t play golf. He was a blank slate.

A top coach is working with him and started Dan out only allowing him to putt a foot out from the hole. After he’d mastered one foot, he started putting from two feet out. And then three feet and so on. Now, after more than a year into it, his arsenal includes a putter, chipper, and a wedge.

Club by club he’s working his way to a full golf bag. And, he hopes after 10,000 hours of practice he’ll have worked his way to a shot at becoming a pro golfer. Hang in there, and good luck.


The Zip-off Pants

I was just talking about traveling light and being able to carry your bag on Friday. But I feel like I should be clear that you shouldn’t  travel light by wearing zip-off pants. No zip-off pants.

Nothing is much better than these things, at shouting “tourist!” I know they seem to be a good idea, but they’re not. Especially if you have any desire to blend in at all with the local populace. The only people I’ve ever seen sporting zip-offs are tourists. And that can be ok if you want to remain  immersed in a clot of your fellow zip-off pant wearers.

I’ve found when traveling, the more you blend in the better your experience of another culture can be. So, being somewhat sensitive to local fashion can help. For example in Mexico, as you travel inland from the coast, adult men don’t wear shorts. Sure, if you have blue eyes and freckles you won’t be mistaken for a local Mexican man even if you’re wearing long pants, but you don’t want to work against yourself either.

Zip-off pants are the tip of the attention drawing iceberg of bad travel practices. Last week I saw this article, How To Avoid Looking Like A Tourist, by Kate Kuhlman.  The article covers almost every travel fashion faux pas from the wrong footwear to cameras used as necklaces. She beat me to it and did a good job on the subject, it’s funny too.

So remember, the people hawking travel wear like zip-off pants have their sales numbers in mind, not what you’ll actually look like outside of the shop or catalog.

If you went to a beach in Brazil populated by women who looked like the one below, do think she might be using a secret tip-off signal for her friends – to check out your zip-off pants?                                                                                                                                                                                              

Escalator to the Gym

Almost everywhere you go these days you need to search amongst oversized people to find a regular sized person. I don’t know the numbers, but my observation in the Western world, is that overweight people seem to outnumber the people who aren’t overweight. I guess people like eating too much and not moving enough. But, we’re meant to move around – and probably while carrying something.

When I travel I see lots of people in airports pulling around small carry-on bags on wheels. I understand using wheels on big heavy bags. But, these days most of the airlines are encouraging us to only take carry-on luggage. And we’re often complying.

If you’re traveling light, you can benefit from going without wheels on small luggage. Instead of the wheelie bag, why not just use a bag you can hand carry or use with a shoulder sling? You’ll move around more quickly and negotiate tight spots, like the aisles on the plane and in the news stand, more easily. And you’ll wind up getting a little free exercise.

Is it human nature to avoid any possible exertion? Probably, but most people who can afford to fly  aren’t engaged in activities requiring them to seek relief from physical hardship. The stairs in airports are actually faster and very easy if you’re carrying your bag. You’ll begin to notice that the stairs are hardly used anymore in airports. Same deal with the moving sidewalks in airports – if it’s not your first time seeing one or you’re running late for a flight – why stand there for two minutes? It’s like people taking the escalator up to the gym to get a workout.

Have a look at this article about sitting that I just spotted in the NYT. Here’s an excerpt:

After assessing how much food each of his subjects needed to maintain their current weight, Dr. Levine then began to ply them with an extra 1,000 calories per day. Sure enough, some of his subjects packed on the pounds, while others gained little to no weight.

“We measured everything, thinking we were going to find some magic metabolic factor that would explain why some people didn’t gain weight,”… with the help of the motion-tracking underwear, they discovered the answer. “The people who didn’t gain weight were unconsciously moving around more,” Dr. Jensen says. They hadn’t started exercising more — that was prohibited by the study. Their bodies simply responded naturally by making more little movements than they had before the overfeeding began, like taking the stairs, trotting down the hall to the office water cooler, bustling about with chores at home or simply fidgeting. On average, the subjects who gained weight sat two hours more per day than those who hadn’t.

Faded Genes

I used to surf with a  Peruvian guy, here in Mexico. We got along well and had some fun surf sessions. Eventually, he had to leave Mexico and return to Peru. I never knew his last name, and now I wish that I knew it.

There’s been some upwelling of family information due to the recent death of an aunt.

It seems that a few generations ago a Peruvian man named Senor Paredes moved to the US and settled in New Orleans. As sometimes happens with immigrants wishing to blend in, he changed his name to Mr. Walls, which is what Senor Paredes means in English.

The newly minted Mr. Walls married and had a girl they named Beulah.

Beulah Walls married a man named Rene Stocker and had a son named Clyde.

Clyde Stocker married a woman named Gayle Jaubert and together they had three girls. One of those girls had me. And she named me Stocker Cary, giving me Stocker as a first name because she had no brothers to carry the Stocker name forward.

When I was a kid I can remember my Dad teasing my Mom about being from South America and I thought it was because she had black hair. I never had an idea my great-great grandfather was from Peru. But I like it. Especially as I now live in a Latin country.

The other day I was telling this story to a Mexican woman I know and she made a surprised face – her last name is Paredes. Small world.

Now I just wish I knew the last name of my surf friend from Peru. He may be family too.

Killer Graphics

Here’s a good example of the visual display of information. It’s showing the death rate per watts generated using coal, oil, and nuclear. You barely notice the black square representing nuclear; it’s there, but tiny compared to the deaths that can be attributed to using oil and coal for fuel. If you’re concerned about the risks of nuclear power, it seems to be a lot safer than coal and oil.

I’m not a fan of any these sources of energy and I think we should be pursuing and investing in newer, cleaner energy technologies. With the problems in Japan right now there seems to be a renewed scrutiny of nuclear power. There’s a very dramatic and scary problem in Japan. But, we forget about the non-dramatic, not-as-scary, but chronic problems associated with using oil and coal. Out of sight, out of mind, feel good. It’s going on now, while you’re reading.

Faster and cheaper sound good. Oil and coal are faster and cheaper. But if all of the costs to the environment and to human health are accounted for these things aren’t so cheap. Look at the killer graphics above.

New Paper

What do yesterday’s news, dirty fingers, and an awkward size describe? For me, it’s a newspaper. I’m not a newspaper person. I seldom read a newspaper. I do look at the NYT online a lot, but I’ve never subscribed to a newspaper in my life. In the past I preferred news magazines, tv, or the radio to newspapers. And now you can add the internet as the main source of news for me. It seems that the internet is really punishing newspapers now.

Maybe there’s hope for the papers though. I saw the winner of the world’s best-designed newspaper competition and I think I’d read this newspaper. Unfortunately for me it’s from Portugal and is in Portuguese. The name of the newspaper is “i.” You can check it out here.

“i” has a lot going for it. It’s less than 10 by 14 inches and lightly stitched along the fold so it can be read like a magazine and is also easy to navigate. The graphics and photos are in color, drawing you in and focusing your attention. It’s claimed that the copy is fresh and engaging too, I’ll have to take the judges’ word on that.

Maybe other papers should borrow some of the design elements from “i” to recapture readers. I’d read more papers if they were like “i.” I don’t know what took the newspaper industry so long to get it so right. I guess they had a captive audience and no reason to innovate. I hope it’s not too late for papers. Lots of happy trees out there, I’ll bet.

Nook Hot Rod

I’ve been using a Kindle reader for a few months now and I love it. It’s light, small, and easy to use with great battery life too. Another e-reader, the Nook, has a color display. Don’t forget the iPad, another good e-reader platform people love; but it’s more than twice the price and weight of dedicated e-readers.

People do love the iPad as a tablet computer; but they prefer the price and size of a dedicated e-reader. So some folks are hacking e-readers, especially the Nook, turning them into cheaper and smaller tablet computers. And, they’re cheaper to use too, contract-wise . Pretty cool. A Nook hot rod.

There’s probably a fair number of hackers doing this modification. I say this because I’m not that into computers; so by the time I know about something like this it’s probably being done by lots of aficionados. Here’s a video on doing it in case you’re an aficionado who somehow missed the boat.

This is innovation from the ground up. A recent story about this on NPR became a most e-mailed. So there’s an interest out there. I think it’s fascinating to see change occurring on the street level where you can’t predict what will happen when tinkerers start tinkering, and then to see how it percolates up to production companies. It won’t be long before you see lighter, cheaper tablet computer for sale in a store.