Magic Food Power Combinations

There are some food combinations that become more than the sum of their parts. Combining these ingredients leads to a transcendent food item. Most of you are probably thinking of peanut and jelly as an example. That’s certainly a good example, but here’s an obvious one that people will probably skip over: Bread. Bread is delicious. Bread is life. At its core, bread is just water and flour. I’d recommend salt, too, for flavor, but these are the only ingredients a baker will need to incorporate. Yeast is also necessary, of course, but assuming we were living in ancient Egypt or whatever, we could easily make a starter using more flour and water and letting it sit out for a while. Anyways, this is completely tangential to the point I was trying to make: I’ve found another power combo.

I bought this sauce at the grocery store the other day – it’s called Chaka’s MMM sauce. It was on sale, so I figured I’d try it out. I put it on some pork chops and let it marinate overnight. The next day, I pan fried it for lunch. I gobbled that shit up – it was delicious! The fatty part of the pork in particular had this distinct umami taste. I realized it reminded me of the pork chops my mom would cook, but her marinade only kind of overlapped with the Chaka sauce. The ingredient list for the Chaka sauce is only like 5 or 6 ingredients long, so it couldn’t be that hard to distinguish the thread that linked the two marinades. I’m 90% sure the ingredient is soy sauce. Sounds simple, but I guarantee if you buy a cut of fatty pork, marinate it in some soy sauce over night, season it with salt and pepper and pan fry it, you’ll be surprised at the depth of flavor that the fat will pick up. It’s impressive, really.

On Diversity

I was watching this episode of Bizarre Foods where Andrew Zimmern goes to the Ozarks to eat bear. I guess it’s pretty popular up there, because he was talking about how limited the hunting season was and it’s supposedly really hard to get a permit to actually hunt bear. Anyways, there were butchering the bear to eat and Mr Zimmern starts talking about how bear fat is used for everything up there, from oiling machines to lighting candles. Apropos of nothing, the guy who hunted down the bear was a banker. This stuck out to me.

When I think of bankers, I think of either some Wall Street fat cat, or a bank manager at your local bank chain. But when I see a TV show like this, it reminds me of the actual diversity of lives that are being experienced by people worldwide. It’s really easy to live in a bubble if you live in an urban populous city like San Francisco or Seattle. While every city has distinct characteristics, you also see a lot of similarity in the lifestyles of the people in the city.  You get a lot of people who work standard 9-5 jobs, with some time to go out on the town on the weekends. The 9-5 exists in the country, too, of course, but I feel like there’s definitely more variety in what people do in their different localities, mostly because they don’t have the option of consuming stuff in the city like museums or bars or clubs or whatever. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – hiking out in nature or hunting seems like it would have its own appeal.

Then there are the people who are completely divorced from the concept of the 9-5. I remember a while ago, I read this news article about the Ringling Brothers circus closing down. What got my attention was thinking about the carnies who would be put out of a job by the closure of the circus. I can’t imagine the lifestyle of constant travel and performances in the circus. It’d probably be low pay and hard work. Now that the circus is closing, I’d think it’d be pretty hard to find a new job, too. Who’d hire you? I’m getting pretty off track here, but I just think it’s surprising how niches like this can exist. I guess it doesn’t any more, since it seems like circuses are dying out. Ah well.

On Vegetarianism

One of the biggest ethical issues I deal with in my daily life is my treatment of animals. While I never directly inflict suffering on animals, I implicitly support it by continuing to eat animal meat and animal products. I don’t think eating meat can be morally defensible in developed society.

Having said that, I do eat meat every day, because it’s ingrained into me and my culture. That’s not meant to excuse my behavior, though – this is explaining how the situation came to be. A couple years ago, I went on a ten day Goenka meditation retreat. The proffered meals were all vegetarian, which to me was no big deal. I could eat whatever was provided no problem. However, after I went back to the real world, I went right back to eating meat. It was really hard to continue eating a vegetarian diet. Why was it so easy there, but so hard in my daily life?

Here’s how I see it: it was easy to do because I was put in a situation conducive to doing so.

  • The choice was taken away from me. Because I didn’t have the option of eating meat, it wasn’t that big of a deal to skip it. If I were in a situation where they served meat and vegetarian dishes, it would be lot harder to stick with the diet.
  • Everyone else did it. It’s a lot easier to normalize behaviors when it’s reinforced by your surrounding culture. Consequently, it’s harder to break out of preexisting behaviors that are reinforced by your culture.
  • I didn’t have to do the work myself. If I were cooking, I’d probably make a meat dish because it’s a lot harder for me to fuck up a meat dish than it is to fuck up a vegetarian dish. Also, it’s easier for me in general to come up with meat recipes than vegetarian meals. Also, because if I were cooking, I’d feel like it’s almost a waste to cook vegetarian because it wouldn’t be as satisfying as accompanying a meat dish.

I don’t really have an answer here, I just wanted to point out that it’s kinda shitty of me to eat meat even though I abhor the ethics behind it. Ah, well. Fuck it.

On Preventative Care

I recently found out I have a cavity on my top right molar. I only realized this when I ate something cold and an aching pain shot up in my mouth. I went to the bathroom, took a look in the mirror, and pulled back my gums to see the damage. It’s actually pretty severe. This is compounded by me not going to the dentist in several years. In fact, I haven’t even been to the doctor in years either. With the cavity, I’m now more likely to schedule a dentist appointment to address the issue. This brings me to my main point: This could have all been avoided if I took better care of my teeth.

I’ve seriously neglected my oral hygiene and it’s resulted in this cavity. Sure, I brush twice a day, but that’s the bare minimum; I floss irregularly and I don’t bother to limit my sugar intake. As a result, I’m overweight and my teeth are in bad shape.  Why didn’t I just do a better job of preventing the problem? It would’ve been a lot easier to nip this in the bud instead of letting this problem build up to the point where it noticeable impacts me. It’s like a leaving dishes in the sink continuously until it’s completely overflowing and now I have to pay the price. If I just did a better job of maintenance from time to time, I would have suffered less and been better off in the long run. Instead, I’m probably going to have to get a more serious, permanent solution in the form of a cavity or root canal and my teeth are going to be worse off. It’s incredibly short sighted.

When I think of my own shortsightedness, I see how prevalent this attitude is in the outside world, as well. Take a look at the climate change problem: mostly everyone agrees that the earth is heading down a shitty path if we continue with our current trajectory, but we aren’t doing enough collectively to effect real change. It’s as if we’re about to drive off a cliff and everyone in the car made a group effort to slow down the car by one mph. Sure, we’ve done a little bit to alleviate the issue, but we’re still going to drive off the cliff – it’ll just take us a little bit longer.

On Getting Up Early

Recently, I’ve been setting my alarm clock earlier in an attempt to boost my productivity in the morning. I’ve been failing miserably. What happens is, I set up multiple alarms, and sleep through most of them. Well, that’s not entirely correct. I’ll wake up, check the time, and hit snooze until I really have to get up. I’ll wait until the last minute to wake up, where I have to rush to get changed and brush my teeth and catch my bus. The problem here is that I know I still have buffer before actually going to work, so I’ll put off waking until necessary. I hesitate to set only one alarm clock in the morning, because I know I’ll probably set the alarm to snooze anyways and then end up sleeping in. It’s an tough challenge for me.

While the point of setting these early alarms has failed, it has created an interesting unintended side effect – while I doze off, I stay in a weird waking dream state, not necessarily lucid, but in a state where I have a slightly increased level of consciousness about my dreams and I’ll generally remember them. I feel like this is a potential outlet for me to generate ideas and have more visceral experiences. I don’t know if this is super common, but I’ll generally feel like I’m more emotional in dreams. I’ll live different lives and feel as if these events actually happened to me. I’ve woken up multiple times tearing up and feeling melancholy from the sense of loss of my dreams. When I wake, it’s not just that sad things may have happened to me, but my dream lives are real experiences that have now ended with my waking. It’s like a second death. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I feel like the power of using your dreams as a staging ground for mental training and emotional regulation is an underexplored field of study.

On Life Experience

I remember when I was a kid, this older role model type figure was telling me about how he became lactose intolerant. Apparently, when he was in college, he was too lazy to cook, so he would just eat cereal every day. He did this for such an extended period of time that he was eventually hospitalized and afterwards was unable to drink milk again. I remember I laughed at him for being so dumb. Looking back, I realize how ignorant I was.

Here’s a related story: when I was around the same age, I read the book of Judges and learned about Samson. For those that don’t know, Samson’s this alpha leader of the Israelites who goes around fucking up God’s enemies and anyone who looks at him wrong. He’s famous for slaughtering a band of Philistines with a donkey’s jawbone. What happens to Samson is a classic tale of someone making really poor life decisions.

Samson falls in love with a Philistine woman named Delilah. She’s bribed by Samson’s enemies to get him to reveal the secret of his strength to her. She pesters him constantly, asking him day and night to open up to her about his vulnerabilities. Each time she asks him, he makes up some bullshit. The first time he “confesses”, he goes, “Tie me up with some newly bound rope. I’ll lose the source of my power.” Next day, he wakes up tied with in some fresh rope and is attacked. The next time she asks, he tells her, “tie up my hair and I’ll lose my strength.” Next day, he wakes up with tied up hair and is promptly ambushed. This cycles on for a while. Eventually, he’s like, “Fuck it. Here’s my real weakness. Cut off my hair and I’ll lose my strength.” Of course, the next day he wakes up with no hair, and having lost the source of his power, he’s captured by the Philistines. They gouge out his eyeballs and parade him around at a party, at which point he kills everyone by knocking down the supporting pillar of the banquet hall everyone’s feasting in, thereby toppling the building. What’s the shared moral between these two stories?

When I was younger, I scoffed at the people in these stories. These people ended up the way they did because they made bad decisions. Now that I’m not such a snot nosed brat, I really hesitate to judge people who are victimized by their bad decisions. We all make bad decisions. I’m certainly far from perfect. I’m only lucky that my bad decisions haven’t impacted me so negatively.

Younger me would’ve thought, “Well, it’s their own fault, because they kept making the same mistakes over and over again. Why did that dumbass eat only cereal every day?” That was my opinion as someone uneducated on life. Now that I’m older, I can easily see how I might’ve fallen into similar traps: having to work full time and cook and clean for myself, I can envision eating cereal every day for the sheer sake of convenience. I don’t, but I do eat out most days, because by the time I get home, I’m tired. I don’t feel like putting in the effort to cook. I just want to eat and relax. I know I shouldn’t eat out so much, but I’m pretty burnt out after work; I’ll put off thinking until I’m at work.

“Well,” my younger self might counter,  “What about Samson? Why did he blab his secrets to this succubus? She tried to kill his ass multiple times. How stupid do you have to be to confess your secrets to someone like that?” To that, I’d say, shit ain’t that easy when emotions are involved. There are two possible interpretations I have for the story of Samson:

  1. Love. It’s really hard to make clear headed decisions when you care about someone else. You can sacrifice your own livelihood to care for someone else because you feel that strongly about them. Think of people who quit their jobs or throw away their savings for medical expenses for their loved ones. Even if the chance of survival is slim, it’s still worth taking to them. Maybe Samson loved Delilah that deeply that even if he knew she was going to betray him, he confessed to her because he wanted to believe that she wasn’t actually going to kill him.
  2. Emotional abuse. It’s also possible he was browbeaten into it. There are many stories of domestic abuse, and people always question why the victims stayed with their abusers for as long as they did. Common answers are, they felt trapped, or they had been devalued so much that they didn’t think anyone else would want them, and so forth. Basically,  the abuser harangues their victim for such an extended period of time that they lose sight of their other options. Personally, I see the story of Samson as a subversion of the classical archetype of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is typically associated with meek, submissive people, mostly women, who are imprisoned by big, abusive men. Samson is the complete opposite. He’s renowned for his strength and vigor. But even a guy as tough as Samson can fall prey to abuse. Domestic abuse isn’t something that fits one mold; Anyone can be a victim to it.

Again, the moral of the story is to stop yourself from rushing to judgement. When you hear a story that sounds dumb to you, keep in mind the perspective of the teller. You didn’t go through what they did. Learn some empathy.  Even if you still judge other people harshly, at least you understand the background behind their decisions.

On Manual Effort

I’ve recently started hand washing my clothes, as is the fashion nowadays. Actually, I’ve just lost access to my washing machine and I’m too lazy to bring my clothes to a laundromat. Anyway, washing clothes by hand is a massive pain in the ass. I remember reading about how one of the only jobs Chinese laborers could get in America during the gold rush was doing laundry. I didn’t really understand the impact of this before having to do my own laundry, but hand washing clothes requires massive effort to do by hand. It’s incredibly energy intensive, backbreaking work.

To wash you clothes, you fill a tub of water with some amount of detergent. You then dump your clothing in the tub. You have to really mix up your clothing with the detergent water to get the dirt out, which requires constant agitation in the form of scrubbing. Then when you drain the water, you have to rinse out the soap from the clothes. This step is the most labor intensive part of the process. It’s similar to the previous step in that you have to mix up the new water with the clothing to remove the detergent, but you have to be very thorough in this step to remove the detergent. If you aren’t thorough enough, your clothes will be stiff and starchy after you dry them. So after you scrub out the soap, you have to squeeze out the water for each article of clothing. It’s not so bad the first time you do it, but it’s really tiring to do this for more than a handful of shirts or whatever. After you squeeze out the water, you’re pretty much done, though. Just hang up your clothes somewhere with a breeze to dry them.

Having washed clothes by hand, I really appreciate the invention of washing machine much more now. Automation of manual effort is something that I can take for granted, but it’s pretty amazing to think that these tasks being automated took up a majority of people’s time even less than a generation ago. I can dump a load in the wash and only have to retrieve it when it’s done, whereas if I were to do the same load by hand, it would take an hour or more of constant work on my part to get it done. Technology really is impressive in some aspects.

How to Accomplish Long Term Goals

Long term goals tend to be hard to accomplish for people – they usually require investment over a significant amount of time, which is why they’re not short term goals. Long term goals are usually pretty easy to derail, as well, because things that come up in the short and medium term might be higher priority at that moment.

Imagine setting a goal of saving up 50,000 dollars for your child’s education. This isn’t something you can reasonably do in a short period of time, so you decide to invest 200 dollars per biweekly paycheck into a savings account. I’m going to forgo interest rates for the sake of simplicity. At 200 dollars per paycheck, you invest 400 dollars a month – at 12 months a year, you’re saving 4800 dollars a year. It will take a little more than 10 years to save up this money, assuming you save diligently. Now imagine you run into an unexpected medical expense.

Your insurance will cover most of the costs, but you have a deductible of 3000 dollars that you need to hit before they cover you. If that extra 400 dollars a paycheck is the only spare money you have, you’ll be behind 7.5 months to pay off the medical expenses before you can go back to investing in your kid’s college fund. But because you’ve dropped the habit of putting your money into your kid’s savings for 8 months, you kind of drop it. You become used to the extra income that the money helps with. You have other bills that need to be paid. You think, “I’ll get back to it eventually.” But you don’t. Your long term plan failed. What went wrong, and how can you fix it?

  • Your plan is too ambitious – you need to break down the big goal into smaller pieces to reduce scope. (Setting a 50,000 dollar goal over a period of 10 years is way too long term. You can break this down as small as you want – think more short term. If you save 14 dollars a day, you’ll still reach your goal in 10 years, but it’s a lot easier to quantify saving that 14 dollars a day than saving 4800 dollars a year or even 400 dollars a month.
  • Remove all processes that require manual intervention on your part. If you’re taking 200 dollars out of each paycheck to put in your kid’s fund, you’re wasting precious mental cycles each paycheck thinking of this account and debating whether it should still be prioritized. If you have the bank automatically move this money out for you, you’ve removed all friction from accomplishing your savings, barring a financial emergency. Out of sight, out of mind.
  • Don’t punish yourself for missing your goals. This makes you less likely to continue on following through. Try to think of ways to mitigate any obstacles that block you from delivering.

Break up the big plan into smaller pieces and do the small stuff. Once you finish all the small goals, the accumulation of all the small stuff should equal the one big goal. I.E “I want to learn how to speak Spanish”

Being broken down into mid-term goals:

  • I want to carry on a conversation about the weather in Spanish
  • I want to order from a restaurant using only Spanish
  • I want to go on a date using Spanish
  • etc. etc.

Broken into smaller goals:

  • I want greet someone in Spanish
  • I want to ask someone out on a date in Spanish
  • etc. etc.

This is pretty hard to do, because it requires a lot of upfront thought about what you actually want from your long term goal. The long term goal is obvious, but why do you want to learn Spanish? What are the use cases that this goal is trying to meet? If you only want it to order food from restaurants, this is a much easier and concrete goal that can be reached in a shorter time. The idea is simple, but far from easy.

That’s pretty much it.

 

On Life Goals

When I think about what I want to have accomplished before dying, I find it hard to come up with ideas. What do I want to have done in my life? It’s to hard to find a purpose, so instead, I’ve removed the ambiguity and came up with some more concrete goals to hit. This is basically a bucket list, but not in the traditional sense – I feel bucket lists have a connotation of being ambitious or cool goals that you’d want to check off, like “run the Iditarod” or “parachute into a volcano”. This bucket list isn’t limited to that, though – it’s probably oging to be catered to more mundane life goals, like “own a home” or “start my own business”. Actually, now that I think about it, I like the idea of splitting the list into small achievable goals that are low hanging fruit, and also ambitious lofty things that require more long term work, so I’m going to go with that instead.

Low hanging fruit

  • Lose weight (5-10 pounds) ( I say low hanging fruit, but I’d guess trying to drop this weight for good would take a few months at least to permanently adjust my diet to reduce calorie intake)
  • Establish emergency savings fund
  • Keep blogging on a weekly basis

Ambitious/Long term goals

  • Learn to play an instrument or sing
  • Learn to draw
  • Publish a book
  • Keep blogging on a near-daily basis
  • Learn a new language
  • Live in a foreign country (Though it could also be relatively short term – I could easily uproot my life any time within the upcoming months to the next year if I quit my job)
  • Lose weight (40-50 pounds)
  • Own a home
  • Run the Iditarod
  • Start my own business
  • Grab a bag of corn nuts and bust a nut

Damn, it’s really hard to come up with concrete, achievable short term goals.

On Communication

I had something interesting happen while I was shopping for peanut butter today.  (Edit for the sake of recall: this post was originally drafted on the 27th.)

I was shopping for peanut butter and this older guy came up to me. He grabbed one of the nearby jars of peanut butter and started motioning towards it. I thought he wanted some help from me, so I looked up to see what he was doing. He began pointing at the label of the jar I was holding. It was a jar of Natural Jif, but at the bottom, it stated, “Peanut Butter Spread Contains 90% Peanuts.” I thought he was making a joke about that statement, so I laughed and made some off handed comment – something like, “I wonder what the other ten percent is.” But then the man picked up another jar, pointed at it, and pointed at his mouth. It was at this point I realized the man was mute. I eventually also realized that this man was giving me his personal recommendations on which peanut butters to buy. I ended up carrying a conversation for a solid five minutes with this guy. He’d express something using his hands or his mouth, and I’d kinda interpret it –

*points towards jar of peanut butter, points to mouth,  mimes chewing*

“Oh, you like Skippy?”

*Head nod*

“Ah, that one’s not on sale though, I think only the Jif is on sale.”

*points to a jif jar, points to mouth, chews*

“Ah, Okay, so you you like chunky?”

*Head nod*

and so forth.

There’s nothing out of the ordinary about having conversations with strangers, but it’s rare to find myself in a situation in which my conversational partner can only communicate through nonverbal cues. What made it more strange was the asymmetry between the conversation modes. I was communicating verbally while the man communicated nonverbally through gestures. I’ve read it’s common for people to adopt the body language of their conversational partners in the course of a conversation – when one person smiles, the other will reciprocate, and so forth. That wasn’t really the case in this situation, but I thought it was interesting to bring up for some reason.

One other thing I wanted to bring up was empathy. As I get older, I become more aware of the importance of being empathetic to others. I was kind of uncomfortable talking with the man at first, but the conversation became more natural and flowed as we continued. If I were younger, I’d probably have continued the conversation until I found the most convenient exit point, at which point I’d give a polite “Thanks” and leave. Now, I’m willing to at least try to talk to others, especially if they put in the effort to reach out to me. I hope I wasn’t condescending, though – I tried to communicate while keeping in mind his perspective. I’m going to expound on this issue in relation to this TV show I watch, Steven Universe – it’s a central theme to the series, and gets big props from me for executing on the theme really well. Highly recommended.