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The Daily Rice: How Do You Value Life?

I recently chose the necessary evil of reactivating my Facebook account and unlike my Instagram account that’s mostly focused on food, Facebook seems to be the same cesspool of armchair economists, would-be epidemiologists, and rabid meme-sharers that I left it at. Leaving the fact that my Facebook network needs just as bad a trim as my hair aside, a sizable number of posts I see are about whether communities should reopen or not and if the former, how quickly and fully.

The slogans create a sense that there are only two sides to the argument: “Flatten the Curve” and “Stay at Home, Save Lives” on one, “The Cure is Worse than the Disease” and “Liberate [insert region here]” on the other. Of course there are a multitude of variations in between depending on how conservative a reopening can be, how robust a bailout package under continued lockdown should be, and a whole host of other factors. I am no expert in any field that would allow me to opine on any of these levers, so I will refrain from doing so. Instead, I will simply point out the complex value judgements people make when they place their stake in the ground.

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Hidden Apron at Home Ep. 5 Recap: On Espresso

(These are recaps of our “Hidden Apron at Home” Instagram Live sessions filmed under quarantine and held on my @errant_diner account. I focus on the fundamentals of cooking as I, a non-chef, understand them. They are based on my experiences learning how to cook and deal with systems and ways of thinking vs. just recipes. This fifth session covers all things Espresso and features my friend Mario Nnani.)

IG Live Recording can be found below (split into two parts due to some technical issues). As with our prior episodes, they’re best viewed full-screen and vertically on your mobile phone.

Part 1
Part 2

The Lesson

Despite having said Hidden Apron at Home was going to be a limited-run series covering some basic kitchen concepts that I think would be helpful for anyone looking to get started/better at cooking, the people have asked for more! This week, we’re featuring an ingredient I consume almost daily and yet have little knowledge of: Espresso. Is it a type of bean? A grind setting? A degree of roasting? All I knew was that it was the comfort I needed in the morning and the jolt was a bonus. Going over this with me was my friend Mario who’s been an early supporter of Hidden Apron at Home and happens to have a growing passion for Espresso (evidenced by the La Marzocco espresso machine he has at home).

Mario has been telling me about his plans to open a coffee cart / shop and so was the perfect guest for the show: knowledgeable enough to pull a proper shot and yet still enough of a beginner to be able to relate to an espresso noob like myself. He walked us through the basics of an espresso and how it’s actually pulled at cafés. More than just a geeky deep dive, I think knowing how something’s actually made increases one’s appreciation and enjoyment of it. Who wants to pay $5 for a crappy latte and not know what was wrong with it eh?

After the behind-the-scenes walkthrough, I showed folks how to make their enjoy their own espresso at home using an affordable Moka Pot and how to steam/froth their own milk using a French Press. Afterwards, I asked Mario for his “Top 5 Takeways”:

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The Daily Rice: When Were You Last Bored?

Sometime in the early 2000s, I stopped being bored. Boy Scout meetings, piano recitals, Taekwondo practices, housework done in a Saudi apartment preparation for a supposedly harsher life in Wild America. I remember staring at walls and ceilings as a kid, willing images to life in my head and crying of boredom when I ran out of books to read or pictures to draw inventions on.

I was bored yesterday and lay with my head back on the couch letting the sun set and darken the room. Nothing came of it of course. That’s kind of the point isn’t it? To simply witness the world turn without expecting your boredom to produce some sort of masterpiece like the Harvard Business Review articles predict it would.

When was the last time you felt boredom? The last time you felt an itch to do something but had nothing that would put a rest to the restlessness?

If you’re privileged enough to risk boredom, try it. Stare at a blank wall, the sky, or a solitary leaf until your brain produces its own hallucinogens and the clouds become a pod of whales going nowhere.

Currently Re-reading: Jenny Odell’s wandering, bookish, but timely call to “do nothing” and Jia Tolentino’s related and nuanced take on the calls to “put your phone away”.

Currently Jamming: Coconut Radio Amsterdam

Currently Cooking: Stuffed Eggplants via Chef Sameh Wadi’s “The New Mediterranean Table” cookbook.

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Dear Mr. Salm

(Julia Turshen [@turshen on Instagram] was offering food writing classes via Instagram Live while everyone’s at home due to COVID-19. These are my responses to her prompts. Prompt: “Write a Thank-You note to your school lunch person”. While I was drafting this letter with the hopes of ultimately sending it to Mr. Salm, I was saddened to find out on Facebook that he had passed away just a few weeks ago. I’m publishing this unsent letter with the permission of his son. My sincerest condolences to the Salm family and everyone who’s had the honor of dining at their table.)

You may not remember me, having served thousands of students for over a decade as my high school’s Food Service Director. Then again I was in the same class as your son Shane so maybe you do. I was doing a writing exercise earlier this week and the prompt had us writing to our “lunch lady” and I suppose you’re the closest (and only) one I really ever knew and remembered from the days of eating out of partitioned lunch trays and federally mandated carrots. I remember you only ever wearing two things: your chefs whites and baggy pinstripe pants behind the lunch counter and a yellow sweater when you showed up to the basketball games that your son played in.

I’m sure you’ll agree with me that for the most part, school meals were mostly forgettable affairs: beef stroganoff, fish sticks, chicken cordon bleu, and beef tacos cooked en masse with the rare sparkling grape juice served in plastic cups for special occasions. Still, I wish we thanked you more for keeping us full. The cross country runners who ate platefuls of stuck together pasta to carb load, the bleary-eyed choir boys who rolled hard-boiled eggs during breakfast while NPR blared over the speakers, the perpetually-hungry who fought over chocolate milk and seconds, the international students who learned to like the after-lunch dessert of PB&J dunked in Vitamin D milk. I think those are thanks we owe you and all the other food professionals who’ve done their best to keep students fed on strict regulations and stricter budgets over the years. But my memory and gratitude go a little further.

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Hidden Apron at Home Ep. 4 Recap: On Cooking Creatively

(These are recaps of our “Hidden Apron at Home” Instagram Live sessions filmed under quarantine and held on my @errant_diner account. I focus on the fundamentals of cooking as I, a non-chef, understand them. They are based on my experiences learning how to cook and deal with systems and ways of thinking vs. just recipes. This fourth session is part of a longer series addressing the Motivation – or lack thereof – to cook. This one deals specifically with Flexibility. Click here for recaps of Part 1: Confidence, Part 2: Efficiency, and Part 3: Flexibility)

IG Live Recording can be found below and you can find the Menu Planners and a more in-depth explanation of how to set them up in this post I wrote back in 2015. Note that since this was on Instagram Live, this is best viewed on mobile and at full screen. My roommate coincidentally chose to teach a workout class at the same time so please forgive the chaos and enjoy the quarantine-induced hilarity towards the latter half!

The Lesson

For this past month, we’ve been addressing the multiple factors that stop someone from cooking that often take place before you even enter the kitchen. Having the confidence to approach an unfamiliar dish, the efficiency to make meal preparation less of a drag, and the flexibility to adapt recipes to changing conditions are all critical pieces to consider for any cook. This week, we’re addressing a fourth reason keeping many from cooking: Creativity.

Creativity is a loaded word that we often associate with starving artists and child prodigies. We often think that creativity must be some innate quality and that some of us just aren’t born creative. If we mistakenly consider ourselves from the latter group, we must think that we can’t possibly do the things the stereotypical creatives do: cook, draw, paint, dance. I myself thought so and so it didn’t strike me as strange that I started my career in Accounting. But what is Accounting but the creative moving around of pretty much imaginary numbers? Did you know that it actually takes quite a bit of creativity and persuasion to classify something as a revenue at times and armies of accountants can magically make them disappear so as to lower their tax burden?

Palabok Hapones: Shimamoto Ramen, Ebi Tsukemen, Ajitama.
Photo Credit: Kurt Belen

On the flip side, the “creative arts” are governed by rules and limitations though because they aren’t as spelled out as Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, they are bestowed some air of mystery. When it comes to cooking, I can definitely say that by applying some simple exercises done on a piece of paper, you too can get creative with your culinary escapades. These exercises force our brains to look at certain ingredients, flavors, colors, and other attributes from different angles so that we’re not narrowing down on a single recipe. Think of it like reassembling Lego blocks! Here’s how it works:

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