10 rules for writing fiction, or just for all endeavors →
In 2010, the Guardian asked writers for some tips and guidance - for ten of their “personal dos and don’ts”. Zadie Smith’s read like a dictum for any creative endeavor:
When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.
When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.
Don’t romanticise your “vocation”. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no “writer’s lifestyle”. All that matters is what you leave on the page.
Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.
Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.
Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.
Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.
Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.
Don’t confuse honours with achievement.
Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand - but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.
These feel universal - truths across time and disciplines (granted, with a little adaptation). Most of them certainly feel relevant to my lil’corner of science.
image from coclimate.com
Nicola Twilley, writing at ediblegeography.com:
After running around New York City in order to source our precursor ingredients (a huge thanks to Kent Kirshenbaum, chemistry professor at NYU and co-founder of the Experimental Cuising Collective), we spent Thursday afternoon and evening in the kitchens of Baz Bagel (excellent bagels, amazing ramp cream cheese, and truly lovely people) assembling the cart, mixing different chemical precursors, and then “baking” them under UV light to form a London peasouper, a 1950s Los Angeles photochemical smog, and a present-day air-quality event in Atlanta.
We chose these three places and times to showcase three of the classic “types” that atmospheric scientists use to characterize smogs: 1950s London was a sulfur- and particulate-heavy fog, whereas 1950s Los Angeles was a photochemical smog created by the reactions between sunlight, NOx, and partially combusted hydrocarbons. Present-day Beijing often experiences London-style atmospheric conditions, whereas Mexico City’s smog is in the Angeleno style.
Meanwhile, at its worst, Atlanta’s atmosphere is similar in composition to that of Los Angeles, but with the addition of biogenic emissions. An estimated ten percent of emissions in Atlanta are from a class of chemicals known as terpenes, from organic sources such as pine trees and decaying green matter. We had also hoped to create a Central Valley smog as well, but time got the better of us.
Each city’s different precursor emissions and weather conditions produce a different kind of smog, with distinct chemical characteristics—and a unique flavour.
Soi Four, a Thai place on College in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland, makes a lot of delicious stuff. One of our favorites (and something we order every time we visit) is the Miang Kum, which is described as follows on their menu:
miang kum Fresh cut mustard leaf wrap of roasted coconut, prawns, pomelo, herbs, & sweet palm
It’s awesome. Crunchy, salty, sweet, bitter, and hot. We decided to try to make it home a few days ago, bought the requisite ingredients, and gave it a whirl. It turned out magnificently. A bit of prep work, but nothing exorbitant. Without further ado, here’s the recipe (adapted from justasdelish.com and found via the google-bot).
1/3 lb peeled, deveined shrimp
Toasted peanuts, crushed
Mustard leaves, cut or torn into 2” by 2” pieces
1 grapefruit (oro blanco) or 0.5 pomelo, sectioned and chopped
0.25 cup + 1 tablespoon sliced shallots
3-4 green/red thai chilies, sliced into small coins
0.5 cups + 2 tablespoons grated, dried coconut
0.25 cup diced young ginger
0.25 tablespoon finely sliced Galangal
0.5 cups water
0.5 cups palm sugar
0.5 tablespoon fish sauce (red boat!)
Step 0. Roast the coconut over medium heat, stirring constantly to avoid burning. Remove from heat when it starts to brown. Separate 2 tablespoons and save for later.
Step 1. In a mortar and pestle, smash the shallots and galangal into a paste.
Step 2. In a small sauce pan, add the 0.5 cups water, 0.5 cups palm sugar, and 0.5 tablespoons of fish sauce. Add the shallot and galangal paste. Heat over medium low heat until reduced to about half the liquid volume. Add the two tablespoons of reserved toasted coconut and remove from heat.
Step 3. Boil or stir-fry your shrimp until cooked. Crudely slice into small pieces.
Step 4. Assemble. Take a 2” by 2” square of mustard leaf. Throw a little piece of shrimp on there. Top with roasted coconut, a piece or two of shallot, a pinch of peanuts, some grapefruit, a single chili coin, and a little ginger. Drip some sauce over the top.
Step 5. Enjoy. Repeat.
Arianna Rinaldo, introducing Gabriele Galimberti’s photo gallery of grandmothers and their prized recipes:
Appealing to their natural cooking care and their inevitable pride in their best recipe, common factors to all grandmothers in the world, Gabriele persuaded them to do their best in the kitchen. This means moose stake in Alaska and caterpillars in Malawi, delicious, but ferociously hot, ten-spice-curry in India and sharks soup in the Philippines. He has come back with a cookery book of detailed recipes that mix love, photography and travel amongst the many exotic ingredients. Indeed, each for each grandmother he has produced a portrait of the cook, and easy to follow recipe and an image of the extraordinary and at times mouthwatering final dish.
His photos and text are great. I’ve had a similar idea floating around for a short video series of how people cook in households around the world — with a specific focus on how they cook AND what the meal looks like. My colleagues and I tend to focus on the fuel, the stove, and the practices of cooking in rural households — but often don’t pay as much attention to the nourishing final product. The meals carry such cultural and local significance (not to mention deliciousness) — a fact that Galimberti highlights magnificently.
R can be scary for those new to it, but it is exceptionally useful for a number of things, including managing, importing, and merging text files; resaving them; and performing statistical analyses to your heart’s content. It is your friend, albeit one that you must learn to love slowly and painfully.
This brief tutorial does not serve as an introduction to R. Instead, it focuses on reading in a large, complex data set with ~1 million rows and 50+ columns. It was created to help facilitate some analysis in a GBD course at Berkeley. It will help you figure out how to do some basic manipulation and subsetting and export these subsetted data into a comma-separated text file (“csv”) for analysis in your favorite spreadsheet program. It is a work in progress and will be updated over time.
Our families descended on the Bay Area last week for Thanksgiving. It was fun madness; our parents meeting for the first time, we coordinated turkey-day logistics, and cooked up a gluten-free storm. The meal itself went well, though, per the norm, we had far too much food.
I love the umami deliciousness soy sauce can impart to… anything. This recipe comes from A Cook’s Journey to Japan by Sarah Marx Feldner. It’s slightly modified here - no deep frying of eggplant required - but relies predominantly on a simple dressing of mirin, soy sauce, grated garlic, and rice wine vinegar. The combination is outstanding and matches the eggplant perfectly.
3-5 long Japanese or Chinese Eggplants, quartered
3 tbsp mirin
3 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 cloves grated garlic
5-10 leaves mint, cut into strips
Green onions, finely sliced
Preheat the oven to 350F. Toss the eggplant with vegetable oil and arrange on a baking sheet, flesh side down. Bake for 25 minutes, flipping once. Meanwhile, make your dressing by mixing the mirin, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and grated garlic. Remove eggplant from the oven, transfer to a serving dish, and coat with dressing. Top with mint and green onions.
Now comes news that Obama’s homebrew is packed aboard his campaign bus. At the end of his coffeehouse chat, the president had a bottle brought in for his new beer buddy. Watching this, the press corps who travel with the president were thunderstruck. And they wanted answers from White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
Carney took flurries of questions about the beer. One reporter asked about transporting the homemade brew across state lines, in a line that drew laughter from the press pool: “Does the Treasury Department know about this?”
Carney was also asked, “Any other distilleries in the White House we don’t know about?”
“There’s a lot going on behind the trees on the South Lawn,” he said.
… Asked if he’d tried the White House beer, Carney said he had — calling it “superb” — and added that he thinks there are both light and dark style beers. But he wasn’t sure who is in charge of the brewing.
“Usually, when somebody hands me a beer I don’t ask how it was made. I just drink it,” he said.
update: The White House has released the recipes for the two homebrews in rotation!
Back in November, slate.com published a long, thorough, kind of insanely detailed history of the old fashioned. My favorite part of that actually comes from a Letter to the NYT Editor dated Jan 1, 1936. The author simply names himself "OLD TIMER."
Consider, for instance, the old-fashioned cocktail. Time was when the affable and sympathetic bartender moistened a lump of sugar with Angostura bitters, dropped in a lump of ice, neither too large nor too small, stuck in a miniature bar spoon and passed the glass to the client with a bottle of good bourbon from which said client was privileged to pour his own drink. In most places the price was 15 cents or two for a quarter.
Nowadays the modern or ex-speakeasy bartender drops a spoonful of powdered sugar into a glass, adds a squirt of carbonic to aid dissolution, adds to that a dash or two of some kind of alleged bitters and a lump of ice, regardless to size. Then he proceeds to build up a fruit compote of orange, lemon, pineapple and cherry, and himself pours in a carefully measured ounce and a halt of bar whisky, usually a blend, and gives one a glass rod to stir it with. Price 35 to 50 cents.
Profanation and extortion.
The whole article is worth a read. Check it out here.
FRESH POLENTA: SMOKED SOY, SWEET PEPPER,
FRIED GINGER, SHICHIMI
Another largely improvised recipe, based entirely on what was on hand. Had a couple cobs of corn, a red pepper, and ginger - all retrieved from a recent outing to the Temescal Farmer's Market. The smoked soy is a treasured present from Dr. Kvasnovsky.
The idea was somewhat inspired by a bevy of dishes I've seen of late -- corn grits, cheddar, fried pork belly, some greens, an egg. I wanted to do a riff on that, but using fresh corn (based on good experiences with a recipe similar to this one). I knew I didn't want to use pork belly or bacon -- but also wanted to get some of that smokiness in there. Figured the use- sparingly-super-soy would do the trick... and give the whole dish an umami kick that would play off the sweetness of the corn. The red pepper was thrown in to mix up the textures, sweeten things, and add some color contrast.
I also wanted some other goodness to throw in the mix (slash eat before it rotted in the fridge). I sauteed up some lettuce with almonds and sriracha and made some quick blackened tofu.
VEGGIE YUBA ROLLS WITH MAITAKE, SPINACH, CABBAGE,
& SPRING ONIONS
Slightly complex, but fun.
This was largely improvised. I've been wanting to try it out -- an attempt at gluten-free spring rolls. Yuba is the substance that rises to the top of boiled soil milk. It can be [carefully] removed, folded, and packaged. Many types are dehydrated -- the kind that you find at your local Asian superstore. That type should be rehydrated for a few minutes before cooking. If you have access to fresh yuba, there's no need to rehydrate.
Slice some maitakes -- perhaps 1.5 ounces -- and cut tofu into some long, thin strips. Slice green onions and shred some cabbage. Mix in whatever proportion you would like.
Season as necessary -- I added a little soy sauce, pepper, and srirachra. Fold up and fry. Done. Voila. Delicious.
MIXED GREENS, ORANGE, RED PEPPER, SPRING ONIONS SALAD
The title more or less says it all -- just stuff from the fridge and a bit of improvisation. Came together nicely, with the peppers playing off the slightly sour and rather sweet oranges well. The onions and arugula added just a little bite to round it all out.
SIMPLE TOFU SALAD W/SCALLIONS, SOY, SESAME SEEDS
This one's easy, nothing too fancy.
Cut up some tofu. For a single serving, I used a quarter block. Heat a cast-iron skillet or non-stick pan on medium heat, add your fat of choice [canola, olive oil, lard], and add the tofu. Let it brown for around 10-15 minutes on each side.
Meanwhile, grab a tablespoon of soy sauce and 1.5 tablespoons water. Mix in a bowl. Thinly slice the green part of a scallion; once you get down to the firmer, white portion, cut it down the middle in both dimensions and separate. Throw these longer pieces in the soy sauce. Cover and let sit at room temp.
Grab some sesame seeds and shichimi togarashi, a Japanese spice blend. When the tofu's done, place it in your bowl with soy sauce and green onions. Top with sesame seeds, the remaining green portion of the scallions, and the shichimi. Enjoy.
GLUTEN-FREE, BEER-BATTERED PACIFIC COD TACOS
Onwards on our quest to substitute non-wheat products in the foods we adore. Who doesn't love fish tacos? Who doesn't love fried?
The lady's gluten-allergy makes beer-battered fish tacos seem like an impossibility. Mais non - we found a way. Involving gluten-free beer [a misnomer, I know] and chickpea flour, sweet rice flour, corn flour, and millet flour. And a cast iron skillet with a half inch o'canola in it. And a small prayer to the great Salmon of Doubt [anyone who can tell me why that reference is appropriate today get's a kiss on the nose].
I ended the evening with a Mikkeller Warrior Single Hop brew while watching Mad Men. Delicious.
We battered some Pacific Cod in a combination of the above and a few other things [recipe after the jump]. We fried it. I made a quick salsa composed of fresh, local, organic tomatoes; cilantro; onions; and garlic. The mistress put together a cabbage slaw tossed with lime zest, lime juice, jalapenos, salt, pepper, and garlic. It looked like this.
GLUTEN-FREE BOK CHOY & EGG PIZZA
inspired by So Good and Tasty
We tried our first stab at a gluten-free pseudo-pizza this evening. It turned out swimmingly. We used a commercially available [and surprisingly delicious] pizza crust from Udi's Gluten Free Foods.
Mixed it up a bit and used bok choy [per the recipe above] which we lightly sauteed with oil oil, garlic, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper. We lightly oiled the pizza crust with some decent evoo, topped it with micrograted grana padana, threw the bok choy on top, cracked a couple eggs, and threw it in the oven. It cooked at 450Âº on a pizza stone for about fifteen minutes. It turned out really well..
We also made a little bit of sauteed broccolini - simple prep, with olive oil, crushed red pepper, lemon zest, and lemon. It tasted great and complemented the pizza well.