Statistics Saturday: What Some Cooking Terms Mean


  • Brazened Apples. To take apples or any other fruit with edible skin and subject them to a display of outrageous behavior.
  • Deglaze. To take food off the window.
  • Reassembled Eggs. Scrambled or stirred eggs which have been placed back into a shell or similar hard container. It is not necessary to unstir them; if one does, the result is called “Delmonico Eggs”.
  • Oignon Brute. A half-peeled onion placed on a skillet in a manner characteristic of 1960s and 70s architecture, generally reliant on concrete, with the working structure implied by the shapes of the visible exterior or of elements within the living interior space.
  • Adumbrate. To set a relish or other briny material on the shelf in the pantry by mistake until you remember it maybe should be refrigerated, but you’re not sure if that’s really necessary or just cautious.
  • Roast Jeté. To set something in the oven while jumping.
  • Discoursing the Meat. To remove the edible part of an artichoke from a golf course or other public walkway.
  • Naked Spaghetti. The most dangerous pasta.
  • Icing. To make any kind of food wait for you.
  • Serendipity Sauce. Any process which moistens your cooking surface without your effort, including the automatic sprinklers going off.
  • Blornching. To over-stir the meat, meat substitute, or thick pudding, to the point you neglect everything else, and you end up not even liking the meat either.
  • Escanaba. (Localism.) To have or serve food in Michigan’s upper peninsula.
  • Scowling Cheese. Any hard or semi-soft cheese which has been made to disapprove.
  • Western-Fried (as in steak). To southern-fry something while lost.
  • Chunked Wheat. To sort into four or fewer categories a pile of flour or other wheat product.

Reference: Defining NASA: The Historical Debate Over The Agency’s Mission, W D Kay.

Statistics Saturday: How Many Whats In A What


How many ___ in a ___? This many.
Feet Yard 3
Teaspoons Tablespoon 3
Tablespoons Quarter-Cup 3
Miles League 3
Leagues Mile 3
Divisions League (baseball) 3
Quarter-Cups Cup 3?
Fourths Fifth 4/5 [ whew! ]
Panels Cartoon 4
Divisions Multiplication 1/1
Degrees Degree-Day 1/(Number of Days)
Pages Magazine 96
Whats Whatnot 0
Deals Deck of Contract Bridge cards 53, 644,737,765, 488,792,839, 237,440,000.
Bananas Bread 2 1/3 cups
3’s 33 1/3 3 [ uh-oh ]
Rubik’s Cube 13
Episodes Character Arc 8
Gallons Acre 44,040
Buttons 101-button keyboard 102
Quarks Proton … 3 …
Pinches Inch 1 [ If at the start of a Special K cereal commercial of the 1970s ]
Pinches Inch 0 [ If at the end of a Special K cereal commercial of the 1970s ]
Songs Encore 3
Grains Heap 1,211

Reference: Sweets: A History of Temptation, Tim Richardson.

Returning To The Alarms


I’ve still been thinking about alarms we might use. Please note that these are not based on dreams, except the dream we all have of a world made perfect. By perfect I mean one where we find out there are problems and can do things that fix them.

An alarm that it is time to make something in the slow cooker. Many of us have slow cookers not being used for their primary purpose. This can be okay, since we can use them for their secondary purpose, which is to be a big heavy thing covered in slightly greasy dust that’s on top of the refrigerator or kitchen cabinets, and that somehow falls away from us whenever we try to take it down. It’s a demanding job but what else could possibly do it? The blender? The rice cooker? The jumbo-size plastic bucket from Wall Drug, a place neither we nor anyone we know has ever been?

Yes, clearly. Any of these, plus the fondue pot and the bread maker that still has some kind of crust in it from 2014, can fill the slow cooker’s secondary purpose. So we need a reminder of that, and that’s what this alarm will do. It’s not an urgent alarm, just a reminder that, hey, you could take two hands full of edible things, put them in a pot, fill the rest with water, and set it going for between three and twelve hundred hours, so why aren’t you?

An alarm that someone might put a full travel mug in their backpack or suitcase or something. This is not based on anything I’ve seen someone do. It’s just that we have a really good travel mug. It’s dishwasher-safe, for one thing. And it’s scary good at keeping things warm. It’s kept an ordinary load of coffee warm for stretches of up to eight months. We don’t know if it could do longer. We wanted to put it in the dishwasher. Anyway this doesn’t call on unusual magic. It’s just really good at forming a closed seal to hold its liquids. Now here’s where it gets alarm-worthy.

My love uses a small backpack to lug stuff around. And sometimes at the end of the day tosses the empty travel mug in there, freeing up hand slots. And this has made me realize that someone could just toss a full travel mug, coffee and all, into their backpack or suitcase or anything else holding other stuff. And move around like that! This makes my feet crawl, and not in the good ways. I mean in the ways like when I hear how in the 60s NASA sketched some plans to make a Lunar Flyer, that would just be this platform with little rockets they could set off in pulses, using the mechanic we would come to know from Flappy Bird but at the Sea of Tranquility. The idea was this way astronauts could cover a lot more ground, then crash into it. And that’s the feeling this “chuck a full travel mug into your suitcase” idea gives me. There is absolutely nothing in place to stop this from happening. We need something in place to stop this from happening.

An alarm that we’re about to over-water a plant. Obviously this isn’t needed for every plant. Christmas trees, for example, have these nice huge buckets of water and we can see whether we’re putting too much in: it spills out onto the skirt. But for other plants it’s harder. We can see that, say, the soil is pretty dry, since the cactus is smothering itself in skin lotion that isn’t helping. Watering is the obvious answer. But we start out and the water just disappears into soil that isn’t made the slightest bit less dry. As we pour in the first three gallons of water the soil somehow becomes more dry. And then suddenly one more drop and it’s too wet. The flower pot is this stew ready to be put in the slow cooker, and there’s a waterfall of mud and cactus remnants pouring out over the bookcase, across the floor, and down into the basement, sweeping away whatever’s on the floor. This is piles of magazines and back issues of the local free alt-weekly newspaper that we can’t agree whether we’ve read. This is not just obviously inefficient. It’s also inefficient in the un-obvious ways. Anyway we need an alarm to let us know we’re entering the one-24th of a second window between “needs more water” and “is overwatered” so we can stop pouring.

There are probably more things we could be alarmed about give a fair start.

In Which I Am Extremely Helpful Making Food For Thanksgiving


I hope to help in preparing things for Thanksgiving. I have reason to think I can. I cook most dinners. I don’t do advanced cooking. I mostly use the cooking trick of “warm up a food thing”. Make sure it’s a food thing (very important.) Warming it up is also important. You can try having, say, an un-warmed baked potato. The results are sad to taste, plus then you have a conversation afterwards about how you reached this point in life.

Still, warming is pretty much the one trick I’m good at. Thanksgiving dinners need two or even four tricks. So its cooking is a challenge. The first challenge is getting over my offense that we find recipes on the Internet. The thing is in the early 80s computer magazines would tell us three things. That we should learn BASIC to program computers. That we could use computers to store recipes. That we needed to know what “modem” was short for. This was all nonsense and I’m annoyed we’re letting computers give us recipes. I don’t care if it’s the only way to find out what a blanched tomato might even be. We don’t need to know that much. “Modem” is short for “modulator/demonstrator”.

So I take a recipe and step into action. I check first that it is a recipe for a thing we want to have at or around Thanksgiving. This isn’t my first rodeo. I confirm the ingredients:

  • 1 (one) loaf, adumbrated
  • 3 cloves
  • 2 5/8 cups water (rotational cut)
  • 4 tbsp cream cheese
  • 14-18 crackers, club
  • pinch allspice
  • two eggs (British-style)
  • pinch somespice
  • 1 can, peas or what have you, 8-12 oz (troy weight)
  • cheek-rub nutmeg
  • yellow squash (at least two parts yellow to one part squash)
  • 1 and 7/9th cups scuppered niblicks
  • some mushrooms of the “usual kynde” (Ref: Chaucer, c 1387)
  • 2/5th cup sugar (mixed white and dark, or as it is known to professional cooks, “chiarosucrose”)

I spread the cream cheese onto the crackers, interrupted by the two crackers that break in half mid-spread. Placing the smaller half on top allows these to become tiny pyramidal cream cheese snacks. It fortifies me for the work of making food. I’m lucky not to need a snack to get the fortification crackers ready. I discard 2/7 cups of water as surplus to requirements.

There’s sure to be a need for some milk product. I look over the cans: evaporated milk. Condensed milk. Sweetened condensed milk. Unsweetened unevaporated milk. Powdered half-and-half. Half-and-unpowdered-half. Instant yoghurt [sic]. Partially assembled yogurt [sic]. Whipping cream. Whipped cream. Lightweight whipped cream. Summer-weight whipping cream. Pitted milk. Unpitted milk. De-unpitted milk. Re-pitted milk. Lots of pulp milk. Pitied milk. I take out a can of cheese soup stock and pretend to be dusting the cabinet shelf when challenged.

Anticipating a serving-spoon shortage I select some spoons, “fiiyne and trew” (Ref: Pepys, 1667), and set them in a secure spot, thereby causing the shortage.

Preheating the oven to 395 I start telling anyone who’ll listen of how I replaced the heating element in the old electric oven. The only one willing to listen is the new electric oven. I trust this story rallies it to new heights of oven skills, as like four months after I put the new element in we got rid of the old oven. Well, we had a new one. So with the old we looked through Craigslist. We found someone named Craig who wasn’t going to check their lawn any too often to see if someone abandoned an electric oven there. It has a good home now with a Craig who’s entertaining fantasies about some home-based food-making service, so far as we know.

There are instructions on one of the recipe pages printed out about fluting a pie. This is a prank and I pay it no attention.

I open the carton of bread crumbs. It’s a cherished carton, handed down in the family for decades now. The box’s design betrays its age. The lettering is in that check-numbers typeface they used for future-y stuff in computer magazines of the early 80s. Its UPC number is 4. I take a clean handful of crumbs and rub them against the loaf until the crumbs, themselves dryer than my hands if such a thing is possible, crumble. The cloud of bread crumb crumbles spreads in a vaporous movement off the counter. It settles on the floor, where it becomes a patch of the tile that never feels comfortable to walk on again, even in socks.

I set the microwave timer to 1:99, and switch it to 20 percent power, before turning it off.

The butter needs clarifying, as far as we know. We’ve been getting these “butter rolls” from the hipster farmer’s market. They’re cylinders about four inches in diameter and upwards up twenty feet long. I begin the clarification process by connecting it to our lie detector. It’s actually the old iPod Nano, with a broken pair of earbuds used as the sensors. Don’t tell it. We discuss its past and whether it feels any trauma from having once been milk. And then its feelings on converting from milk to butter. What is it to endure the process the dairy industry professionals know as milk-into-butter-converterization-processificationizing? We can only hope to know. Its alibi checks out and it is released from custody.

In a moment of whelming curiosity I look up what it is to “parbroil” a thing. It is to boil a food until it is partially cooked. This makes me rant about how “part boiled” is exactly the joke I would make about what it means. And it’s irresponsible of actual food-related people to pull a stunt like that. I start to ask whether it is a “pound” cake because of the many steps in which one punches the cake. Furthermore, I show with logic everyone agrees to be supremely correct and right and everyone else was wronggity wrong wrong wrong that the word “demonstrator” must imply the existence of a word “monstrator” which would be an explanation which makes the workings of a thing completely obscure.

I am excused from the kitchen.

And Then At The Chinese New Year Event


The mall hosted a Chinese New Year event this weekend, much as it does every Chinese New Year that I’ve been tracking. They had some lucky-draw giveaways. Last year my love and I came achingly close to winning something. We had a block of maybe six tickets and they called the number before our block. The number after our block. The numbers ten less and ten more than ones in our block. This guy next to us was amazed by our near luck. He didn’t win either.

We didn’t get so close to winning anything this year. But that’s all right because the raffle prizes seemed to be from a restaurant’s surplus sale. Some of the prize items were slow cookers. One, a mystery item in a huge box, was three slow cookers. Not just a tower of three slow cookers, but a huge box that contained three slow cookers together. You know, for people who realize they need to buy three of them at once and want a huge, unwieldy package instead of an unwieldy pile of packages.

Besides giving away hundreds if not thousands of slow cookers, they were giving away deep fryers. Lots of deep fryers. And I realized, a deep fryer is almost the precise opposite of a slow cooker. This must be why the pile of slow cookers and the pile of deep fryers were on opposite sides of the stage. You wouldn’t want the appliances to start fighting.

There were some non-cooking-appliance things given away. Please picture this scene: a kid maybe half the age of our pet rabbit finds out she has a winning ticket. She runs on stage. She picks one of the wrapped-up mystery gifts. Inside is what every kid most hopes to win: a heating pad. The kid had the same expression you see from a dog who was expecting a burnt sausage and instead got asked a calculus question. So this was all worth it, as we got to live-roleplay Jim’s Journal.

They Also Warn Of Whimsical Dishes


I bought this neat little tea-making gadget, good for bagged or loose-leaf teas, because yeah, I’m that kind of person. You put the tea and the hot water into the main reservoir, and then you set the whole thing on top of your cup, and it drizzles out the center, and hope that when you lift the gadget up again it stops pouring, and if it doesn’t, you buy a replacement tea-making gadget, like I did in the previous sentence.

I noticed that packed with it was an advert asking me to “peruse our monthly newsletter with entertaining and interesting insights into the history and enjoyment of tea”, which is terrifying enough and a deeper connection than I really feel like for a company that sold me a tea-making gadget. Then it went on to ask that I “drop in on our lively bulletin board — you’ll meet tea-loving friends and find answers to all your tea questions.”

On the one hand, trying to strike up conversations with people with whom I share exactly one known trait — tea-drinking — is terrifying. The idea that I should have multiple tea questions ready for them to answer is all the worse. And on the other hand I’m fascinated by the idea of what an Internet community of tea-drinking people is like. And then I remember that since it’s an Internet community it’s a group of people telling one another that they drink tea wrong. Still, imagine the flame wars they must have.

It further encourages me to “take part in our monthly contest and discover the whimsical dishes created by people with a passion for cooking and tea”. That’s the sort of advertising copy to make me hide under the bed and feel vaguely bad about eating, having tea, or enjoying whimsy.

Why I Shouldn’t Be Left In The Kitchen


So I picked up a box of paczki from the Quality Dairy convenience store. I’d had to pop in for cash anyway and they had so many boxes of so many doughnuts that it felt like a mercy to buy some. Plus I was thinking of my father, who can’t appreciate them considering the state he’s in (South Carolina). On the box’s side is a paragraph of information titled The Paczki Tradition, provided I guess in the charming belief that Americans might require some coaxing into eating doughnuts that are slightly thicker than usual.

The paragraph, by one Herbert A Holinko, “Recipient of the Cavalier’s Cross, Poland’s highest civilian award”, explains that they’re made of the finest ingredients and covered with several types of sugar or glaze, and was traditionally made “to use up the ingredients in our households” before the Lenten fasts. I hope he means using up doughnut ingredients. If we tried to use up all the ingredients in our pantry ahead of Lent we’d be making paczki bulging with rice, dry spaghetti, six different bottles of vinegar each with about a quarter-inch of liquid we assume to be vinegar in them, packets of mee goreng-flavored ramen noodles, and a bin of those Boston Baked Beans candies that we only tried for the first time like a month ago and it turns out they’re pretty great. I cannot say what kind of pastry this bundle of ingredients would produce but I imagine anyone eating it would fall back on the oft-used “Frankensteinian” adjective before fleeing our house, never to return.

Holinko also explains “Our German neighbors to the west call them Berliners and our Austrian friends to the south celebrate with the Krapfen”. This is, I believe, the kindest thing any high-ranking Polish person has said about Germans or Austrians since 1683, when Jan Sobieski said, “You know, I like these coffee shops Vienna’s got all of a sudden, and this bagel thing seems like a good idea if we just added some salt or garlic or maybe chocolate chips and blueberries to it. Anyway, good start, maybe needs just a little work or cinnamon jalapeno cream cheese”.

I got to a little bit of work on a bagel yesterday when I realized we’d forgot to take any out of the freezer and wanted to have one as breakfast. Rather than give up on the bagel idea, maybe having the ramen instead, maybe carving a hole out of the center of a potato and smearing enough cream cheese on it that nobody would care about the difference instead. Since I had already gone plainly mad — it was a salt bagel, not a plain, anyway — I tried defrosting it in the microwave.

The microwave has got a defrost setting, I assume, somewhere in that collection of neglected buttons showing pictures of potatoes and popcorn and pizza and whatever other foods whose name starts with the letter ‘P’ they could think of. So I tried setting it for sixty seconds on fifty percent power and the microwave went to work on a sixty-minute cooking cycle and that is not me comically exaggerating, that is me somehow failing to press ‘6 0 Power 5 Start’. And here I need to point out that while it is technically true that I hold a doctorate in mathematics from a very well-regarded university, microwave oven button use constitutes only a very small section of one course in Functional Analysis and it’s not like you remember everything you get to in a course like that.

So I got that straightened out and the bagel down to defrosting for two minutes, at the end of which … it was piping hot and soft and, when I sliced it open, warm and flaky, with little clouds of steam rising and I’m not certain but I believe that an angel rose up from its center and gently brushed my cheek. I have known harder croissants, not to mention firmer clouds of water vapor, and I’ve been feeling guilty ever since that I committed some gross offense against the laws of bagel-preparing. I wouldn’t have had this problem with ramen; there’s very little need to defrost that, most of the time.

Things I Didn’t Know Computers, Kitchen Science Could Do


I don’t want to be too chatty about work, because most of my time at work is spent remembering how when I was seven I wanted to grow up to be the astronaut responsible for drawing Popeye, but sometimes fate demands it. Today while trying to work out a problem that I believe will best be resolved by blackmailing our web servers, one of the co-workers had cause to try asking Google a question, so, yeah, here’s the autocomplete.

What we entered: 'can i substitute url for'. What Google offered: 'for baking soda', 'for eggs', 'for baking powder', 'for buttermilk'
Google’s auto-complete has gone completely mad.

Clearly, more people than I realized have been cooking for Tron.

I’m tempted to look at any of these auto-complete results, but I just know I’ll be disappointed, since somewhere a couple years ago Google decided that it’s just going to ignore some of the words you actually searched for in favor of the things it figures you ought to look for instead, and while I’ll probably be better off learning more about how to make buttermilk pancakes using web site addresses in place of the baking soda, eggs, baking powder, and buttermilk, I don’t want to give in to the peer pressure. Also, I don’t know if you need baking soda or baking powder for pancakes. Someone should make a web site that says whether you do.

S J Perlman: Poisonous Mushrooms


It strikes me that apart from “Captain Future, Block That Kick” I haven’t shown off many of the works of S J Perelman. That’s a bit odd considering his influence, although I’ll admit that I’ve read less of him directly than I have of people who were influenced by him. Here, from The Best of S J Perelman, is a bit of thought about mushrooms.


Poisonous Mushrooms

Are We At The Crossroads?

Well, autumn is here again, and very shortly every Tom, Dick and Harry will be asking himself the question “Poisonous mushrooms—-yes or no?” In every mossy dell, in every nook of granny, these delicious little edibles are springing up. Only yesterday I happened to fall into conversation with a stranger in the subway, an extremely well-made woman of thirty-one with Dresden-dainty hands and feet, I noticed that she was eating a small umbrella-shaped object and asked her what it was.

“An umbrella,” she replied shortly, descending from the train at Seventy-second Street. Needless to say, the incident did not pass unnoticed, and I retired in confusion amid the hearty laughter of several wealthy cattle-drovers who had come down to New York for the day on the steam cars.

I first became interested in mushrooms about ten years ago. Two friends of mine named Johnny had a little place, a sort of cellar, on Fifty-second Street where they kept coal and wood and ice. I was down there one evening bent on some coal and wood when Tony pointed to the ceiling and said “Corpo di Bacco, what’s that?” I looked up and there was a whole clump of mushrooms growing right out at me. Well, I let out a scream fit to wake a dead man–as a matter of fact, it did wake up a dead man who’d been in the corner for three days and he came over and tried to bite me. As I say, I stayed in bed nearly two weeks that time, but after I was well, I got this Frank and Johnny to put aside the place as a sort of permanent laboratory where I could study the mushrooms.

It will probably come as a mild shock to no one that there are all of four hundred different kinds of mushrooms. Four hundred and one, really, because when I looked up this fact in the World Almanac, I found a new variety growing out of Page 29. Now, what are mushrooms? Nothing more or less than toadstools, though why they are called toadstools is beyond me; I have yet to see a toad sitting on a stool, although I have combed all the books dealing with the subject. Of course I haven’t had a chance to study the books yet–all I’ve been able to do is comb them, but still, it seems a peculiar name to give an unoffending mushroom, doesn’t it? It was probably made up by someone who hated mushrooms and thought he could get even. But why should anybody hate mushrooms? The little fellow goes about his business quietly; once in a while he kills a family of twenty or thirty people, but then, what right has anyone to have a family of twenty or thirty people? I was wrapping up some laundry in a newspaper recently and saw a note about a man who had had thirty children. This sort of thing can’t go on indefinitely, no matter what the man says.

In the eleven years I have been studying mushrooms at my laboratory on Fifty-second Street, I have seen cases of almost uncanny intelligence among my specimens. I had a Peppery Lactarius growing in a glass right next to a Fistulina Hepatica, or Beefsteak Mushroom. (If you can imagine a purple beefsteak covered with short prickly spines growing out of a tree, you will easily see why science chose this name, and you can then explain it to me.) Well, one morning I made the rounds of my collection and found that during the night Miss Peppery Lactarius had moved into Mr. Beefsteak Mushroom’s jar. I woke up my assistant, put a little ice on his head, and quizzed him. But no; he had been right there on the floor since eleven-thirty the night before. To this day we have never been able to solve the riddle, and it is still referred to by superstitious folk in the neighborhood as “The Mystery of the Migrating Mushrooms.” I am thinking of bringing it out in book form, perhaps adding a mysterious puffy toadstool in a black hat who was seen skulking near by.

But how to tell the poisonous mushroom from the harmless variety, since both are found in the same localities, have the same habits, and the same dull look around the face? Ah–don’t be surprised—-the mushroom has a face, and if you look very closely and carefully, you will see the merest hint of an eye, two noses, and a lip. For purposes of identification, we have what we call the Alfred Zeigler test, named after Professor Schaffner of the University of Rochester. The mushrooms are boiled for twenty minutes and their jackets removed. They are then placed in a frying pan with a cubic centimeter of butter, a gram of pepper, and a penny-weight of coarse salt, after which they are subjected to 137 degrees of heat Fahrenheit in the laboratory oven, removed, and placed on antiseptic paper plates. Fifteen minutes after they are eaten, a reaction will be noted. If the mushrooms are harmless, the subject will want to lie down, remove his or her collar, and roll over on his or her face. If poisonous, the balance of the mushrooms should be thrown out, as they are
unfit to consume.

The mushroom often turns up in some really remarkable forms. Sir Joseph Mushroom, from whom their name is derived, tells an interesting anecdote. A cask of wine had been left undisturbed in a cellar for three years, in some country other than the United States. At the end of that time, the cask was found firmly fastened to the ceiling by a large mushroom which had grown as the wine leaked out. The cask was quite empty when found, and how the mushroom looked was nobody’s business. Sir Joseph, by the way, no longer raises mushrooms; he has settled down quietly in Surrey, where he devotes himself to raising bees, but there is still a reminiscent gleam in his eye when Irene Adler is mentioned.

Little else remains to be told. Fred Patton, the former Erie train boy, still continues to rise in Mr. Proskauer’s mercantile establishment on Ann Street, and Gloria Proskauer blushes prettily whenever Fred’s name is uttered. This, however, is all too seldom, as the unfortunate Fred was hit in the vertical cervix by a baked apple last New Year’s Day and succumbed almost instantly. And so we leave the little snitch right smack up behind the eight-ball, and a good end for the mealy-mouthed, psalm-singing petty thief, if you ask me.

Cheesey Developments


Some good news out of the cooking world: the two-piece rotary cheese grater has been rated the most kitchen-y implement of them all, for the seventh year running. According to an article I read on the subject, you can’t even pick it up without feeling like you’re a master of the cooking arts, even if you aren’t doing so well remembering how to get the little box-like end folded over the cylindrical part and the plate that pushes down into the box and aaargh.

Winner of the title “least kitchen-y implement” this year is the lawn roller, which dethroned longtime favorite, the offended scowl.