Friday, July 31, 2009

some days I feel like my shadow's casting me

Basically, think of this blog as a place where I list all the words that I know, in no order except as I think of them, and then tell you what I know about the words and some sentences they're useful in.  Only the words are food.

For instance: fat-washing is the infusing of alcohol with flavors from fat or something fatty.  That which is fat-soluble is also alcohol-soluble, so if you combine something greasy and full of flavor with some flavorless alcohol like 100 proof vodka, the flavor tumbles down the hill from the high point to the low one.  (I don't know if this means you can make bourbon-flavored non-alcoholic butter. That would be nifty, though.) 

You've heard about this because you're on the internet and you've seen bacon vodka or bacon-infused bourbon or a bacon Old-Fashioned, and so on. You introduce the fat to the alcohol, let them sit for a while, and then put the thing in the freezer so that the fat becomes solid and easy to remove.  That way you're not dealing with greasy vodka and bacony mouthfeel later.


For instance, I made butter-infused single-malt whiskey. (Not Scotch.  I used Wasmund's, an American whiskey made very similarly to Scotch.  "Whiskey" basically describes a process of distilling alcohol from grains, which may or may not be malted; malted grains are germinated (so that they sprout) and then dried to keep them from developing further. Single-malt whiskey is composed purely of whiskey produced by a single distillery; the term is associated with Scotch, obviously.  Whiskey terminology is complicated, fairly stupid, and widely misunderstood -- keep an ear out for how many times people in movies say "whiskey and bourbon," when bourbon is a type of whiskey.  For that matter, even most people familiar with whiskey think bourbon has to be made in Kentucky; most of it is, but the term describes a specific process and spectrum of ingredients, and bourbon can be made on the moon for all that it matters.)

I melted the butter, combined it with the whiskey, and let it sit for a few days before putting it in the freezer.  Unlike the people who've described fat-washing bacon and the removal of a disk of fat from the top of the frozen bottle, my butter stayed pretty well distributed throughout the whiskey.  But the solids were solid enough that they could be filtered out with a mesh strainer without a problem.

Took the butter-flavored whiskey, blended it up with vanilla ice cream, grade B maple syrup, and some dots of Angostura bitters on top.  Tada.  Butterscotch cocktail.

blue suburban skies

I don't know what my favorite vegetable is. It's so context-dependent. Send me off to death row and the most prominent vegetable in my last meal will be a tomato sandwich with a good tomato fresh from a garden -- but saying I love good fresh tomatoes is the same thing as saying "hey, 46 weeks a year I don't like tomatoes."

Corn would have to be high on the list because it's so useful, flexible, and goes with so much. You've got corn kernels, cornmeal, grits, hominy. You can use it in any course of the meal, and add it to almost any dish. Corn is a workhorse.

The chile pepper might arguably be the vegetable I rely on the most, though. Certainly high on the list.

Somewhere in there I'd have to include okra, fresh fava beans (sadly, canned and dry do not show up anywhere on the list), cucumbers, potatoes, garlic, beets, radishes for about two weeks a year (they're fine year-round; they're spectacular fresh from the dirt), and greens of all kinds.

Purslane is on the list, and the newest addition thereto. Nothing else is quite like purslane. It's an invasive weed, and people may be surprised to see you (i.e. me) growing it on purpose. They say it'll take over your garden, and God I hope so -- my front yard is hostile to gardening, repelling most of the things I try to grow there; only equally invasive mint has flourished, though peppers and tomatoes do all right in a good year. (This is not a good year, and if it doesn't stop raining, my pimiento peppers won't ripen, and I WILL BE VERY DISPLEASED ABOUT THAT.)

This is my biggest purslane plant, growing in a container on the deck. Brought it inside so I could trim some of it for lunch (with ribeye steak, sriracha, and bourbon-barrel-aged soy sauce).


As you can see, it's raining today. Again.

Purslane has a definite green taste, but it's distinctly different from greens like collards, spinach, etc.  The leaves are very slightly mucilaginous inside -- not to the extent of okra, but enough that cooked purslane is used as a thickener.  They're succulent -- you're not chewing a dry leaf, here, you could probably juice these things.  They're also tangy -- from barely-noticeably-so to downright sour, depending on the weather and/or the time of day.  I haven't actually figured out yet, what corresponds to the tanginess -- but I can tell you that today, very warm, rainy, cloudy, mid-day, the purslane was at the mild end.  (I've wound up not trimming any to freeze, for that reason.)  At its tangiest, you wouldn't want to add much vinaigrette to a purslane salad.

I haven't even tried it cooked yet.  I'll blog about it when I do.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

the whiteboard.

Minor whiteboard update for the sake of the blog

Whiteboard, July 30. I mean, I'm still a writer first; this is how I work.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

through early morning fog I see

There's a whole category of beverages of which I'm a big fan, in which two things are mixed together. I'm not talking about cocktails here, but more or less equal proportions of two beverages, sometimes alcoholic, often not.

My awareness of it all started with suicides, when you take a cup at the soda fountain and hit every nozzle until you've filled your cup with a mix of everything.  Jeff Noon has a terrific short story about that sort of thing.

Then there are shandies -- yet another food word that sees a lot of variant usage, but generally half beer, half soda of some kind. European thing. The Europeans also give us half-Coca-Cola, half-lemon-soda; and half-Coca-Cola, half-orange-soda (available premixed as Mezzomix, which is really kind of awesome stuff).

THEN you've got calimocho/kalimotxo/etc., a blend of red wine and Coca-Cola, which from what I understand is mostly popular among teenagers -- a wine culture version of sorority staple Diet Coke & vodka, maybe, though in theory I love the idea, even if the hangover prospects afear me.

I am maybe the world's only fan of iced coffee (black no sugar) and Coca-Cola, which is one reason why Coke Blak did so poorly (a terrible 90s-style name, the use of both artificial sweeteners and sugar, and top-shelf pricing didn't help, and I don't blame you if you suspect Bialystock and Bloom shenanigans). I mean, there's a whole subplot in my culinary intellectual biography that spins out of combining coffee and Coca-Cola, and breaking Coca-Cola down to its constituent flavors (kola, vanilla, lavender, various spices, citrus), most of which are already combined with coffee on a regular basis, and then pursuing the coffee-orange combination which I first encountered through "Cubic Scoops" ice cream as a kid. It was alternating bits of coffee ice cream and orange sherbet. I'll probably have a whole coffee-orange post sometime. But what works about coffee and Coca-Cola, see, is that if you get the proportions just right -- use little enough coffee that the resulting mixture is still noticeably fizzy -- the coffee dilutes the sweetness of the Coca-Cola without overpowering its flavor profile.  It's really a remarkable synergy.

But my favorite of all this stuff is yuanyang. Half tea (strong, with milk and sugar), half coffee.  Hot or cold.  Doesn't matter.  Black tea, green tea, doesn't matter, and though I usually use Luzianne's family-sized iced tea bags, I also love it made with genmaicha (green tea with toasted brown rice).

two drifters and stuff like that there

Check it out, right. If the blog seems busy lately, it's because people have been suggesting I do this for a while, and at the same time I've been meaning to organize some thoughts in a place other than the whiteboard or the kitchen notebook. There's a lot of backlog. I estimate I have about two years worth of blog in my head before I'd need to think of new things to say. A little ink more or less, depending on the organization -- like yuanyang and coffee/Coca-Cola could have been two separate entries, or the various rosehip or huckleberry entries that will come up could have been condensed into solos. 

Anyway. This one. This is the first of some huckleberry talk.


Look, I grew up in blueberry country, standing up in a canoe to fill Burger King Star Wars cups with blueberries from the bushes that'd hang out over the water on Squam Lake. I know full well just how much better wild blueberries -- small, intense, dark -- are than those mealy khaki-fleshed cultivated blueberries you can buy in the store.  I grew up with port-dark blueberry pie, blueberry pancakes, blueberry jam, Boo Berry cereal.  I am well aware of the greatness of blueberries.

And I tell you what, the huckleberry is better.

There are no cultivated huckleberries, and hell, a lot of people don't know there are ANY huckleberries, tout court.  But it's not a regionalism for the blueberry, the blackberry, or any other blackberry, it's its own damn thing and it commands your respect.  The taste is like ... a more intense blueberry -- a more intense wild blueberry -- mixed with plums (the way plums are supposed to taste, not the way they so often do) and blood-red wine and something else that isn't anything but huckleberry.  I can't really tell you what a huckleberry tastes like. It's like, what's a strawberry taste like?  I can spray words around its edges to show you the silhouette, but they won't touch the heart.

The smell is deep and powerful and intoxicating, musky even. This is the paragraph where we'd say something about it being like "blah blah blah on crack" or "blah blah blah to the nth power" or "mainlining blah blah blah" or "the 90s are gonna make the 60s look like a blueberry," or whatever, if we still said stuff like that there.

Damn, these are good. I don't know, maybe it's like movies, like books, like records -- maybe you have to come back to it when the novelty's worn off and everything's familiar, to really know what your favorites are. But right now this is one of my favorite fresh fruits.  Montmorency cherries, calamansis/calamondins, black raspberries, tangelos, apples, and of course my darlin' clementines.  And now huckleberries.

I froze a bunch.  It's that time of year.  I half-filled a Mason jar and topped it off with vodka.  I froze half an ice cube tray's worth of huckleberry juice.

But how are they once they're cooked? Think of how much a blueberry changes.  Think of how much a strawberry changes.  The first becomes deeper and more flavorful; the second does take on some new qualities, but fresh strawberries have all kinds of fragrance and flavor that you lose to heat.

My first time, I wanted something basic. Missionary huckleberries, you know. Some huckleberries and a little sugar, a pinch of salt, a pinch of flour, baked with puff pastry on top. Barely a thing. A spin around the block.

Man oh man. The flavor all still seems to be there. There's a definite wine character that becomes more pronounced, like with cooked blueberries.

Damn, man.

handcuffed to a fence in mississippi

Peaches, cream.

"Do you need a juicer?"

My mother called me from a yard sale in Connecticut, where she was visiting her father. There was a "W.W.I. Juice Extractor" there and she wanted to know if I was interested.  WWI is the brand name, apparently, not the vintage.  

I had considered juicers when I made more money, but never found one that didn't seem ... too exorbitantly priced, regardless of the fact that I could afford it.  But a yard sale juicer, likely never used?  Sure.  Why not.

The thing isn't very efficient and I haven't tried it on anything harder like beets or carrots yet, but I got a few cups of peach juice out of some so-so local peaches, reduced it down with a few peppermint leaves from the front yard, and added gelatin and lemon juice.  Chilled it until I had a firm jello, and sliced.  No added sugar here -- instead I reduced the peach juice until it was intense enough.  Had they been better peaches, I would have wanted to preserve the fresh flavor, but that's not what was going on.  Some creme de noyaux -- I'll talk about that another time -- would have worked well, or some ginger.  Cinnamon maybe.  Port.  Bourbon.  Plenty of possibilities.  The lemon here is pretty pronounced, it's almost a peach lemonade gelatin.

Plain old cream, from good old Hood.

Monday, July 27, 2009

we both lie silently still in the dead of night

RosehipsSquash blossoms

More interesting ingredients: rosehips and squash blossoms.

Squash blossoms are pretty well known now. They're often stuffed and fried, but I just didn't feel like doing that for dinner, and they don't keep for very long -- so I sauteed them in butter, and had them with a fried egg and a quick sauce of a local greenhouse tomato broken down in brown butter. Nevermind olive oil's strutting around: butter is fantastic in a tomato sauce.

Squash blossoms

Squash blossoms have a delicate flavor which is neither exactly like squash nor entirely unlike it. Aren't I handy?

Now, rosehips.  Rosehips are a goddamn pain in the ass.  They're the fruit of the rose bush, all right, and as if the thorns on that plant aren't enough, these fruit are filled with hard rock-like little seeds -- wait, we're not done -- and little hairs which can't be digested, and therefore ... cause discomfort ... if not removed before eating.

So you have to cut open each of these grape-sized fruit and scrape out the seeds and hairs, and then rinse everything a few times.

Thankfully I'm going to use half the rosehips for a liqueur, for which that won't be necessary.

So dessert, dessert was just a piece of frozen puff pastry folded around a handful of sweetened seasoned fruit -- some of those red plums I picked up this morning, some of the rosehips, a little ginger, a little fresh lavender. Lavender is tricky, you don't want things to taste like soap. But this lavender I have -- and there are lots of varieties with different notes -- has a pepperiness to it that I really like, so I'm trying to find things to use it in.

Fruit galette

What surprised me about the plums was how very tart they became after cooking. These are the blander of the plums, which is why I was cooking them; cooked, they're vibrant and tart, almost sour, like a sour cherry tart with what would for some people be not quite enough sugar.

Very cool.

please don't pull me out this is how I would want to go


Bought some local produce this morning, including the first local tomatoes -- but I'm sure they're greenhouse-grown, so I'll wait for another time to post about tomatoes.  The northeast has been suffering from a tremendous epidemic of blight which is ruining tomato crops, thanks to all the rain -- tomatoes get sick in the same kind of weather we do, too much damp and too little sun.  All year I look forward to tomato sandwiches, tomato pie, and tomatoes and okra, and this summer had to go and fuck with me.  But again, that's another issue.

New Hampshire doesn't seem to be very good at growing peaches -- they're never all that great, and some years they just aren't any good at all -- but what it can do is grow plums.  These are much smaller than supermarket plums, as you can see, and cheap.  $1.99 for each container (for local produce, that's about the cheapest fruit you'll find).  The yellow ones are shiro plums, and are slightly tart; the small red ones (slightly larger than cherries) were just labeled as "plums," and don't have much pronounced flavor.  Both are very sweet and juicy, though, which is nice after such a ridiculously stupid summer.

The soda is Boylan's red birch beer.  When I was a kid, I didn't realize birch beer wasn't common everywhere -- which is weird, because I should have noticed Pepsi and Coca-Cola don't make it.  Birch beer's a little like root beer, especially old school root beers still made with sarsaparilla, which Americans have been making at home since before commercial soft drinks became popular in the late 19th century.  You can tap a birch tree like a maple for the sap, which is sweet and sort of caramelly once it's been reduced -- birch beer's actually flavored with an oil derived from that sap.  Though you can order birch syrup online, and I certainly recommend it, using it to make soda won't result in something that tastes like birch beer.  Trust me, I've tried.  Stick to Boylan's or Polar for birch beer, and use the birch syrup on ice cream or with fish.

(While we're on the subject of Boylan's, their cola has a pronounced cinnamon note which makes it a dead ringer for Mexi-Cola, a cola so obscure I've never even been able to find mention of it on the internet, but I drank a lot of it in Colorado in 1993.)

show me how you do that trick

Last year I cured a country ham in my refrigerator and hung it from my bedroom loft. So let's start with that, that's a good meaty post to offer up for posterity. 

Country ham came first, is the thing.

Chances are most of the ham you've eaten -- canned hams and their Sixlet cousin Spam, the deli ham used in sandwiches, vacuum-sealed ham steaks, the ham of most Denver omelettes and chicken cordon bleu, holiday hams with pineapple rings and cloves, Honeybaked ham -- is city ham. This is what we usually mean when we say "ham" without further information. ("Ham" isn't a very useful word, since it refers to salt-cured pork from the leg, or in the case of "fresh ham" or "green ham," cuts from that leg before curing. "Bacon" covers the belly and jowl. That leaves the whole rest of the pig without handy words to talk about its cured state. But food language is another topic for another time -- probably never, though my grousing will be in a lot of parentheticals.)

City ham is plunged into or injected with a wet cure -- a brine, saltwater with possible seasonings -- from which it soaks up moisture, becomes more tender, and gets salty. If the brine includes curing salt, as it usually does, that's what keeps the ham pink after cooking. It will sometimes be smoked. It has to be cooked before it's eaten.

This is "city" ham because compared to other, older, forms of preserving meat with salt, it's ridiculously frail and ineffective. You're making a product that will last longer in the refrigerator but isn't really preserved as such, not with all that moisture. It's cheap, easy to cook, easy to manufacture, and soft enough that a machine can easily chop up the scraps and mold them into something marketable, but it really isn't very good.

Country ham is not that.

Preserving food is fundamental to the history and practice of cooking, and is as old as people are. Once you've slaughtered an animal in a pre-refrigeration age, you have a large amount of meat and a small window of time in which to deal with it. This isn't an apple tree, you can't come back for the rest of the pork chops later. You salt or smoke or dry or pickle or do whatever you're going to do with it. Nobody was waiting around for refrigerators to be invented, shrugging their shoulders and accepting the waste in the meantime.

In a world where steaks and pork chops come packaged in similar sizes, it's easy to forget that a cow is much bigger than a pig, and that they're very different animals to raise. Cows are big and dumb and were high-maintenance animals to raise for meat, until open range ranching was pioneered just in time to take advantage of refrigerated trains and a population boom among affluent Americans, the combination of which created a demand for transcontinental steak and a tradition of steakhouses in industrial Midwestern cities like Chicago. That left a lot of beef leftover from the rest of the cow. The children of the generation riding those rails invented the hamburger sandwich just in time to take advantage of the latest faddish food craze: tomato ketchup. That generation's grandchildren invented McDonald's. That generation's grandchildren are us.

Meanwhile and previous, everybody came up with ways to preserve meat other than cooking it. Bresaola, prosciutto, pastirma, sausage, everybody had their something. Some of it's around now, some of it only in the old country or dusty neighborhood markets. We don't have to preserve our meat anymore, so mostly we don't bother. We don't cook much anymore either. Maybe we chop something once in a while. Maybe we peel something. Maybe we simmer.

Salt, air, and a dry environment help draw moisture out of meat, which makes that meat a less hospitable environment to harmful bacteria. Retarding the growth of those bacteria allows their competitors, the beneficial Lactobacillus bacteria -- you know them from their other hits, Cheese, Kosher Pickles, Sauerkraut, Kim Chee, and Sourdough Bread -- to thrive, which raises the acidity of everything around them. This is why pickles are pickles, and not just wet vegetables. This is why sourdough is sour. The acidity makes the environment even less hospitable to harmful bacteria, and they die off. The ham hanging from my balcony for months, properly prepared, was more bacteria-resistant than the steak sitting in your fridge.

Meat isn't dangerous. It can go bad, but people too often don't understand why, and when all you know about something is that "eventually it'll turn into something bad for you," you start to see that hazard as something innate to the thing itself, residing in it and waiting to pounce. Meat doesn't hate you. Meat doesn't hold a grudge. It's not waiting for you to look the other way so it can suckerpunch you with some foodborne illness. Meat is a place where bad things can come to live if you let them. That's all. People have been preventing that from happening for a very long time. You can trust the process. You don't have to be scared of food. Just learn more. Pay attention, pay attention, pay attention.

Pork becomes country ham gradually. The salt has to penetrate, the bad bacteria have to die off, the good bacteria have to flourish and do their little dance. It takes three, six, some months. Maybe ten. Maybe a few years. It's a living thing: the taste will continue to change, though the rate of change is slower and slower after the first six to ten months.

Country ham doesn't taste like city ham. You know that if you read all that. It's made differently, it's chemically distinct, it's a different dish from some of the same ingredients. It doesn't have to be cooked, though it almost always is (prosciutto is essentially the same as country ham, but is served uncooked). It doesn't have to be smoked, but it often is.

Even most country hams these days are mass-produced, injected with saline solution and aged under climate control in order to reach a minimum standard as quickly as possible before being sliced and sold to food service wholesalers for biscuits at Hardee's, Cracker Barrel, et cetera. That ham's perfectly fine, but well-aged ham is even better.

I covered my fresh ham in salt, and I mean covered it, and kept it in the fridge for about six weeks, pouring off moisture as it collected and rubbing with salt again as necessary. Eventually, the salt that was left barely even dissolved.

Country ham, in progress

Then it was time to equalize it.

Country ham, in progress

The surface salt was rinsed away, and the ham bagged in fresh plastic bags and returned to the fridge, with the fridge at a higher temperature, in the 40s. During equalization, the level of salinity throughout the ham comes to equilibrium, as salt near the surface makes its way to the core.

After equalizing for a month, the ham was hung up to cure for another seven months (longer would have been fine, obviously):

There's a country ham hanging from my balcony

Yes, that's a fishing net and duct-tape.

This is the ham after hanging:

Seven months after being hung ...

And after simmering in Coca-Cola to soften it enough that it could be carved:

The ham after simmering in Coca-Cola

The ham

Lookit that. Lookit that ham. That is some ham, buddy.

Some carved ham

Carved pieces of ham waiting in a roasting pan while I tend to the rest.

Chopped ham

Chopped ham, for rice and soup dishes and deviled ham.

Slices of ham

Slices of ham, ranging from thin for sandwiches to thicker for "ham steaks" to have with eggs or grits, or to incorporate into jambalaya.

I started curing a new ham, with New Mexico red chile added to the cure, almost immediately after taking the old ham down. We'll see how this one turns out in December, or next year:

New ham being cured

buckle up we're wayward bound

Everyone reading this right now knows me. People reading it later are less likely to. If it's later, this is mostly for you, to fill you in on how I think about food, where I'm coming from.

I'm learning to cook. I've been learning to cook for twenty, twenty-five years. This is what I know about learning to cook:

1: Pay attention. To what you eat, to what other people eat, to what other people serve, to what they serve with it. What do you like about what you like? How do other people do it differently? Don't learn rules. Fuck rules. Rules are just somebody's style guide. You can't learn to write by memorizing that piece of shit Strunk and White, and you can't learn to cook -- how to really cook -- by focusing on rules and recipes.

There are obviously some exceptions to that. Some are dish- or context-specific: there is a traditional way to make coq au vin, which requires a rooster. The right way to make a hamburger is with beef, not turkey or lamb or meat substitutes. That doesn't mean you can't make a good chicken and wine dish with something other than a rooster, and it doesn't make a turkey burger an invalid piece of food. That's the key. Learn the difference between "this is the method to achieve this goal" and "this is the only way to handle these ingredients."

Certain guidelines must be followed for a particular dish to be "authentic," whatever that means. This is not a very meaningful truth, and bears more on labeling than cooking. You can't taste authenticity. It doesn't necessarily represent an ideal application of the ingredients -- Europeans adopted tomatoes very quickly after they were introduced from the colonies, after all, they didn't hem and haw over the "weird fusion ideas" they were introducing to their cuisines. There is no particular reason to think that the plants and animals we eat evolved in such a way that the ingredients that taste best together just happen to come from the same place. And we know this. Of course we know this. Affinities like those of chocolate and oranges, corn and butter, or tomatoes and oregano make this obvious. Cuisines as diverse as those of Iran, the Netherlands, and Atlanta developed around the access those cultures had to the spice trade, and built around ingredients of extraordinarily diverse origins. When people turn up their noses at strange innovations, new things, or breaches from authenticity, they may be invoking the idea of an age-old tradition, but they're reacting more out of ego and recent memory, an idea of the past more than an understanding of it. If no one changed anything, we'd all be eating raw mammoth. The assumption, ingrained so deeply in some people, that everything reached its perfect articulation fifty to a hundred years ago and should have been bronzed at that point so we couldn't ruin it, is commonplace but has nothing to do with cooking and does not deserve to be honored in the kitchen.

On the other hand, in cocktails these received rules are more important, at least where names are concerned. Cocktails are made from so few ingredients that variations constitute new drinks entirely and they should be noted that way -- if you say "I make my Negroni with 7-Up instead of vermouth" or "I like orange juice and vodka in my margaritas," you're saying "I don't make Negronis or margaritas." That doesn't mean you can't make those drinks you just described, but you should call them something else. This is a practical matter more than it is a question of whose drinks are better.

Some "musts" are ingredient-specific. Refrigerating tomatoes will ruin their texture and flavor. Freezing oranges will render them inedible for eating out of hand. These things are meaningfully true to a degree most rules are not -- these are the natural rules dictated by the physical world, not the preferences of somebody's great-grandmother inscribed in stone. Sometimes, as with the myth that searing a piece of meat "seals in" flavor or moisture, it isn't clear in the telling whether a rule is naturally or culturally derived, which is all the more reason to pay attention.

But pay attention to much much more than that. Pay attention, pay attention, pay attention. Ask and think and try and taste and play. Do new things with old ingredients. What haven't you done with an egg yet? What haven't you roasted? Revisit things. It's cooking, not novel-writing, theater, not movies -- you never have to come to a final draft of anything and you never have to stop rehearsing. You don't have to make macaroni and cheese the way you did two years ago. You can start doing something different with brownies. If you're out of gin, see what you can do with the whiskey.

One thing I will do a lot of here is explore ingredients that are new, maybe to me, maybe to you, maybe to both of us. That's how I learn, and in part why I cook. What's that vegetable at the supermarket or farmstand? I don't know. Let me buy two of them, bring them home, and see what happens. 

2: Don't be squeamish. If you can't touch raw chicken ... this isn't like choosing not to learn to drive stick, this is like relying on other people to steer while you kick the pedals and point to where you want to go.

An extension of this might be "explore why you don't like what you don't like." Once in a while I take something that I hardly ever like traditional/other peoples' versions of -- potato salad, a Bloody Mary, pickled cucumbers -- and play around with it to find a version I like. Sometimes, what you don't like is a thing poorly done -- most of the hamburgers and hot dogs in the world are pretty sad things, for instance. Sometimes you just like an ingredient prepared a different way you haven't discovered yet -- asparagus roasted instead of steamed, let's say.

3: Don't put your knives in the dishwasher. Don't ever do it.

So. I'm Bill. I love fresh fruit and vegetables, pork, duck, hamburgers, cold fried chicken, culantro, cuisines of the Iberian diaspora and southeast Asia, southern and Louisianan food, Frisco melts from Steak & Shake, pizza in the northeast US, corbezzolo honey, aged cheddar and manchego, yuanyang, cocktails, whiskey, Dogfish Head, Oaked Arrogant Bastard ale, Utz's Special Dark pretzels, cherry malted milkshakes, wedding cake snowballs, Cola Mentos, Moxie, Sun Drop, Double-Cola, Dr Enuf, and Coca-Cola. I get pissed at Dunkin Donuts for fucking around with things like pizza and sandwiches, when they're always out of donuts. It's in your NAME, for heaven's sake. Son of a bitch.