Sunday, September 21, 2014

Some Cooking Updates from the Kitchen-Field

I've been making some slow and steady progress in expanding my cooking repertoire. I even got some plants to aid in cooking! Here are some reports from the kitchen-field (because there are plants now, see) covering the main advances. With thanks to Aliza Aufrichtig and Loris D'Antoni for their expertise and consultation.

Here are some things I've started keeping around my kitchen:
  • Ginger root. I use this with onion or garlic as a base flavoring in stir-fries. I also use it to make ginger lemon tea, which pretty much cures all ailments. (Lazy person's amendment to the recipe: just cut the ginger coarsely and cook it for a really long time instead of grating it.)
  • Dried shrimp. Great for various easy-ish Chinese gourd dishes, for instance bitter gourd and winter melon.
  • Sichuan peppercorns. These little numbing things are great for putting in stir-fries (at the beginning is when I do it), broths, and probably other things. You can use them whole or grind up them up to distribute the flavor.
  • Parsley. Okay, I was late to the party with this universal garnish. I've started getting it more and I even tried to have a parsley plant for a while. The plant didn't go well; Loris made me feel better about it by saying that parsley plants don't regenerate that much anyway. Loris told me about the trick of freezing parsley into ice trays so you have exactly the right amount to use later. (I am not that fancy; I freeze my parsley all together loosely in a container and then shake out a handful at a time.)
  • Basil. Late to the party on this one too obviously. I didn't start using it a lot until I tried having a basil plant, since I had trouble keeping fresh basil around. (This plant didn't go well either.) In preparation in harvesting all those leaves from my basil plant (that actually wilted before anticipated harvest), I bought a lot of basil from the store and practiced using it. I learned how to freeze it--a real innovation! I also invented a great snack: Greek yogurt, blueberries, honey, and BASIL.
  • Thyme. I only recently learned how to cook with thyme, but it seems to go great with tomato pasta sauces and meats. Loris tells me thyme is a good herb to have fresh in my kitchen, so I recently acquired a thyme plant. Fingers crossed that this plant lasts longer.
  • Turmeric, coriander, cumin, and various other Indian-related spices. (I got a masala dabba to hold them!) They're useful for Indian recipes, obviously. I've also started playing around with putting these spices into stir-fries in small amounts.
  • Thai fish sauce. This one is pretty pungent, but I've started using it to put on noodles (along with sesame oil) and also to flavor stir-fries. It look me a couple of days maybe to get used to the taste and smell, but I really like it now.
I've also started keeping around Sauvignon blanc or Gruner Veltiner (white wines) for the purpose of cooking pasta sauce. I've tried using it with vegetables as well (as well as capers with vegetables), but I haven't entirely gotten the hang of that yet.

Here are some favorite recipes that have proven to be easier than I anticipated:
Here are some snacks and other things I've recently invented:
  • Well, that snack with Greek yogurt, blueberries, honey, and basil.
  • This other snack that involves dicing up a pear or nectarine, heating it with maple syrup, and then adding a couple spoonfuls of Greek yogurt. Optional oatmeal makes it more cobbler-like.
  • This sauce for baked salmon with chopped up capers, parsley, basil, vinegar, and olive oil. Salt and pepper the salmon to your liking, bake at 350 degrees for 15ish minutes, and then put the sauce on.
Also food-related: coconut oil is great for maintaining bamboo cutting boards and sesame oil is a great hair and body moisturizer. Who knew? Jump on; it's trendy to use oils for everything now.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Experiment: Daily GitHub Checkins

I've been doing a lot of relatively mindless but decently labor-intensive code-related work (colloquially known, especially in the brogrammer community, as "coding bitch work"). I've been building up some web-based case studies in my Jeeves programming language. I've also had to take over some student code. Taking over this code was particularly painful because of all the managerial regret I felt: regret about not having made them document better, about not having made them do more work. The takeover process has involved a lot of commenting, test-writing, and the occasional small extension to test that I really know What's Going On.

Anyway, to try to mitigate the pain of these various tasks, or to spread it out and prolong it, I've decided to break from my usual model of nothing-nothing-nothing-OMGdeadline and do a small task every day that I work (which, note, does not include all days), big enough to warrant a GitHub checkin. (For those on the outside, being a computer science PhD student, at least if you're me, involves a lot of paper-reading, talk-preparing, writing, thinking, and "thinking" in addition to coding.) I hypothesized that this would be good for me to make incremental progress on some things that just aren't fun to do, as well as improve the general documentation state and cleanliness of my code and tools. I get pretty obsessed with arbitrary routine, so it's worked out decently well so far. (Check me out.) This policy has definitely made me write some documentation and tests I otherwise would not have written. (Although my pseudo-officemate Joe would argue that this is not "real work.") I'll report on things after we hit "OMGdeadline" and let you know how well it worked.

In the spirit of doing things in smaller increments, I'm also making it a goal to do smaller blog posts instead of the Blog Essays (also see my profile on Medium) I've gotten into a habit of doing. I've dramatically curbed my email habit (I wrote a thing here), so maybe these more frequent blog checkins will give my pent-up words somewhere to go.