Planting the Tree Today

I'm back. Thanks, readers, for indulging me while I took a little time off from writing.
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I've been thinking about this quote a lot recently:

The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago.
The next best time to plant a tree is now.

Unfortunately, I've been agonizing lately over why I didn't start doing certain things earlier in life. I wish, for example, that I had begun compound lifting much, much earlier in my life. My body (at its current age) just doesn't respond all that well to heavy workouts. It takes me days to recover, and after a good workout of deadlifts, squats, pullups and bench presses, I am wiped. Wiped out for the rest of the day. I wish I were fitter and more robust than I am, despite all the effort I put into my fitness.

Sure, there are solutions here. I can do lighter, milder, maintenance-type workouts. I usually feel good after workouts of that level of intensity. But then I'll just be in maintenance mode. That's fine, but in maintenance mode I won't be getting stronger, I won't be growing.

This is one of those examples where I think to myself, "shit, if I had just planted this compound lifting 'tree' twenty years ago, I'd have a real tree now. I'd be much more adapted to lifting at a level that I'd be satisfied with." But I can't go back to twenty years ago and plant that compound lifting tree. I can only plant it today. (Well, technically, I planted it a few years ago, but still.)

I can come up with lots of other examples, sadly: I wish I had taken up drawing or painting earlier in life. I wish I had learned to surf earlier. I wish I had taken up language learning wayyyy earlier--like back when I was still a teenager.

And then, I recall a conversation with a friend of mine who's then-partner told her, "It's too late for me to get started on retirement. I'm too old now to bother to save money." He was just thirty-seven at the time.

Now, let's take a moment and notice the circular logic and self-defeatism of giving up on doing something simply because it's possible you could have started earlier. This should resonate with anyone embracing YMOYL, early retirement or any of the frugality strategies discussed thoughout Casual Kitchen. If your first thought is "it's too late for me" then nothing can ever be worth doing. Tough to go through life like that.

And so here, readers, is where I confess my hypocrisy to you. The complaint about not starting to save money earlier and my complaint about not starting lifting earlier are identical! They are the same.

Of course it's always easier to see flaws and hypocrisies in others than in ourselves, isn't it?

So there's my problem and my challenge--and yours too, if you struggle with the "it's too late" issue anywhere in your life: Get over yourself and plant the tree. Now.



READ NEXT: Good Games
AND: YMOYL: The Full Companion Guide Archive




You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

[Links] A Recession-Proof Guide to Saving Money on Food

Readers, I'm still doing some traveling, so please enjoy this post from Casual Kitchen's archives--one of the most popular posts from the early years of this blog.
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Here at Casual Kitchen I spend a lot of time writing and thinking about ways to save money on food, and today I thought it would be a great time to run a retrospective of some of our best and most read articles on the subject.

Feel free to peruse the links below for posts on how to cook more efficiently at home, ideas on how to eat well on very little money, and other articles on how to save money in the kitchen.


Recipe Ideas:
All CK Recipes Filed Under "Laughably Cheap"

Money-saving Tips and Ideas:

Ten Tips to Save Money on Spices and Seasonings
A Simple Way to Beat Rising Food Prices
Mastering Kitchen Setup Costs
Eight Tips to Make Cooking At Home Laughably Cheap
How to Get More Mileage Out of Your Cookbooks

Longer Essays on Food Costs:
Stacked Costs and Second-Order Foods: A New Way to Think About Rising Food Costs
Why Spices Are a Complete Rip-Off and What You Can Do About It

Tips on Saving Money while Eating Healthy:
What's the Most Heavily Used Tool in Our Kitchen? Our Rice Cooker.
How to Make Your Own Inexpensive Sports Drink
How to Create Your Own Original Pasta Salad Recipes Using the Pasta Salad Permutator
Two Useful Cooking Lessons From Another Cheap and Easy Side Dish
Fresh Herbs Part 2: Solutions to the Waste Problem

Cooking Strategies and Tactics:
How to Team Up in the Kitchen
How to Apply the 80/20 Rule to Cooking
More Applications of the 80/20 Rule to Diet, Food and Cooking
Seven Ways to Get Faster at Cooking
Ten Strategies to Stop Mindless Eating
Doing Your Favorite Thing: How to Spend Exactly the Right Amount of Money For an Important Celebration



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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

Ask Yourself These 21 Questions Annually

Readers, for the next few weeks I'll be doing some travelling, so please enjoy this post from Casual Kitchen's archives.
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Readers, I wanted to share a list of questions from How To Retire Happy, Wild, and Free by Ernie Zelinski.

This unusual and indiosyncratic book comes from the same family of foundational works as Early Retirement Extreme, Your Money Or Your Life and Mr. Money Mustache’s blog. And as any Casual Kitchen reader knows, these books and sites have massively influenced my thinking. Zelinski’s book is yet another work that pushes readers to think wildly differently about the world we live in, and like these other books, it offers thoughtful, open-minded readers an opportunity to "play chess instead of checkers" in the game of life.

The following list of twenty-one questions is structured in a way to get you to think and reflect. Are you surrounding yourself with the right social and informational inputs? Are you spending your time properly, in a fulfilling way? Are you making truly active choices about these things? Or are you making passive choices while telling yourself they’re active?

I consider Zelinski’s list of questions to be an important contribution to the canon of early retirement/anti-consumerist literature. And while these questions come from a book about retirement, the questions below are really about living a mindful life of quality. In other words, anyone--at any stage of life--will benefit from thinking about them.

Questions to Ask Yourself Annually

1) Am I in control of my lifestyle?
2) Do I make the most of my money to give me the best quality of life?
3) What can I achieve in my retirement that would make me proud?
4) What can I do that is unique?
5) Do I have enough great friends in my life?
6) Do I devote sufficient time to see my close friends?
7) Do I watch too much TV?
8) Does my lifestyle complement my partner's?
9) Do I travel as much as I would like?
10) Do my time commitments allow me to make a contribution to making this world a better place?
11) Do my time commitments allow me to indulge in creative endeavors?
12) Am I developing spiritually as a human being?
13) Do I exercise enough, in my own enjoyable way?
14) Do I complain too much?
15) Am I as grateful as I should be for what I have in my life?
16) Am I continually learning something new?
17) Do I do something special for myself each and every day?
18) Do I take enough time to meditate and keep my mind in tiptop shape?
19) Am I living in the right country or in the right part of the country?
20) What will make me feel better?
21) Do I have everything I need to be happy, but don't realize it?


Readers, what do you think? Which questions do you find particularly helpful or provocative? And why?


READ NEXT: The Official Your Money Or Your Life Reading List



You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!








Humps

Readers, for the next few weeks I'll be doing some travelling, so please enjoy this post from Casual Kitchen's archives.
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Much of human behavior essentially amounts to comfort seeking. When we're hot, we seek air conditioning. When we're hungry, we eat without delay. When we want something, we buy it, even when we don't really have the money.

A few years ago, when I fortuitously stumbled onto William Irvine's brilliant book on Stoicism, I started embracing various types of "voluntary discomfort" as part of my (halting) efforts to learn to appreciate life more. Stoicism is a really intriguing set of philosophies, and I didn't realize how many misconceptions I had of it. For example: Stoics don't "do" voluntary discomfort because they get off on suffering--that's just a snarky and condescending misreading of the practice. Rather, they do it to appreciate the comforts they have, and to avoid taking those comforts for granted.

At this point I'd also read Julien Smith's short book The Flinch, which is about how our "flinch" reaction often covertly produces avoidance behaviors that divert us from valuable life experiences. This book taught me to invert the flinch reaction and seek out experiences I'd normally flinch from. Finally, it was around this time that I'd begun exploring compound weightlifting in an effort to combat aging and get back some of my lost athletic footspeed and endurance.

Now, I'm awfully slow--window-lickingly slow--at learning things, but I'm finding surprising synergies, big ones, across almost all "domains of discomfort" in my life. Let me describe three examples:

1) Cold Showers
A crucial metaphor from The Flinch is the cold shower. And holy cow, the idea of taking a cold shower is something I definitely flinch from. It seems like such an incredibly awful experience that some days (uh, like today, the very day I'm working on a first draft of this post) I simply can't do it. I turn the water to a nice hot temperature and I wait like a wuss for the water to warm up.

But on the days I can do it, the actual experience of a cold shower isn't really all that bad.

Hahaha ...hahahahahaha... yes it IS that bad! That first shock of the cold water is hellish. I hate it.

Except... three minutes into that shower, the water oddly doesn't feel cold any more. More importantly, I always feel great after a cold shower. I feel refreshed, calm, replenished. Moreover, there's compelling evidence of both positive physiological and psychological effects of cold showers. For example, after difficult athletic training sessions, cold showers help your body recover. I've also found I get cognitive benefits from cold showers too: I feel sharper, mentally fresher afterwards.

The point here is that you've just got to get over the hump. And in the case of a cold shower, that hump is just three minutes long. That's it. And all these benefits are yours, in return for a minor exercise of voluntary discomfort and discipline.

2) Deadlifts
There's a lot to talk about in the domain of compound lifting, and most of this domain is still outside of my circle of competence. But I can speak to my experiences learning to do deadlifts, and one thing I can say confidently is that my road--the road between nervously picking up a deadlift bar with exactly zero pounds on it, and now doing a somewhat respectable 3x10 reps at one and a half times my body weight--was paved with humps. Lots of them.

In contrast to nautilus-type machines that work one or two muscles at a time under more limited conditions, compound lifting trains your entire body: your muscles, bones and connective tissue are all forced to work in concert. And this includes lots of minor muscles overlooked in most standard workout routines.

So, as I worked toward making my body deadlift-compliant, I tweaked parts of it I didn't even know about, and pulled muscles in places I didn't know I had muscles. In my first few months of deadlifting, I experienced intercostal muscle pulls throughout my rib cage. I experienced strains in all kinds of random places in my abs and upper hips (the so-called "abdominal cuff" area is fertile soil for injuries for beginning deadlifters since most people are shockingly fragile there). I tweaked my elbows, wrists, collarbone, even my fingers.

It was kind of like a cold shower... except that it took me about a year to come out the other side. But once I got over the hump, I had a more robust and far less fragile body.

In how many other domains do we see a "hump" of discomfort between us and serious insights and opportunity? And where else do we lose out on longer-term gains because we flinch from (or fear) the upfront discomfort?

3) Learning to Cook
With my typical slowness, I've come to discover that cooking is yet another discipline of voluntary discomfort, with enormous benefits once you get over "humps" of various types.

The discomfort here is a bit more metaphorical, of course. In the very short run, learning to cook is way more of a pain in the ass than grabbing takeout or going out to dinner. So the voluntary discomfort at first involves deferring an easier solution in order to develop some basic cooking and shopping skills.

And then there are the dinners and recipes you screw up as you learn. You'll make mistakes, and ruin a few meals. More humps and discomfort, in other words. It's a necessary part of the road towards competence, and later, skill.

There are many more layers to the metaphor: you'll have to learn how to keep a stocked pantry, how to shop efficiently, how to avoid rookie errors like buying out of season fruits and veggies, and so on. These are all examples of humps to be overcome, but on the other side of those humps are enormous benefits.

Conclusion
I'd speculate that when it comes to cooking humps, most readers here at CK have long ago gotten over them, to the point where we can whip up several days' worth of laughably cheap food in less time than it takes to drive to the takeout place. Some humps used to be big, but as they recede into the rear-view mirror of life, it gets deceivingly easy to forget about all the work that went into getting over them. Don't forget to give yourself credit for this!

Once again, though, this is still more proof of the enormous value of what's on the other side of those humps. Which is why I'm trying to look at the various humps and sources of discomfort in my life in a different way. I am trying to think about what's on the other side of them--usually really good stuff--and I'm trying to train myself to run towards them rather than flinch from them.







You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

Tragedy at Peat Village: A Natural Resource Fable

Readers, for the next few weeks I'll be doing some travelling, so please enjoy this post from Casual Kitchen's archives.
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It was Ireland, during the 11th Century, in a tiny little community called Peat Village.

Peat Village was nothing special, just a tiny village on the edge of a huge peat bog. People there lived very simply back then, and life in this forlorn little village was at best brutish and short. Average life expectancy was 24 years, disease was rampant, and famine and hunger were constant realities.

One day in Peat Village a villager stumbled onto a significant discovery. The peat from the bog next to the village could be used as a fuel! Yes, it was a dirty fuel--it was awfully smoky when it burned--and of course it had to be harvested, treated and dried before it would really burn well, but without a doubt it could be used as a serviceable fuel. And there was so much of it! This villager began using peat to heat his home, his food and his water. In the following years, he and his family enjoyed a meaningfully improved standard of living.

Others in Peat Village caught on to the idea of using peat as a fuel, and they began heating their food, water and homes too. Their standard of living also increased. It wasn't long before everyone in Peat Village was burning peat, and as this little community's living standards improved, things changed irrevocably for the better: disease became just a little less rampant, food became a just little more plentiful, and life expectancy became just a little bit longer. Life became a little less brutish and short.

However, there was a very intelligent villager living in Peat Village who began to worry. He wondered about the longer-term consequences if everyone in Peat Village continued to use peat to heat their homes and their food and water. He started to worry about what would happen if Peat Village ran out of peat.

And he was right to worry about this. It was clear--to the point of obviousness--that there was a limited supply of peat. Yet each year, villagers used more and more of it. What would happen when, inevitably, all the peat was used up?

The other villagers considered this nothing more than scaremongering. Some laughed. But this very intelligent villager was absolutely certain he was right. He could see the writing on the wall. After all, when the supply of a resource is fixed and demand is growing, it is only a matter of time before that resource runs out. It could be years, it could be decades, but the logic was inescapable: at some point--probably soon--Peat Village would run completely out of peat.

Clearly, this would be an unmitigated disaster for the Peat Village community. "Peak Peat" was coming, and with it would come a total collapse in the peat-based economy.

Our scaremonger friend traveled throughout Peat Village to spread the word. He created a list of rules and recommendations for peat conservation for all the residents to follow so they could avoid, or at least postpone, the inevitable Peak Peat catastrophe. He encouraged villages to use peat only when absolutely necessary, if at all. He got into many debates with villagers who didn't agree with him. After all, the villagers wanted to keep their heated homes and heated food. These things improved their quality of life and their standard of living. And some of the villagers thought it was silly to just leave the peat sitting there in the bog completely unused when it had brought about such improvements in their community. Finally, the villagers said, it will be a long time before we use up all of our peat. In the meantime perhaps we will discover another fuel source to replace it.

But our scaremonger friend didn't think very much of the intelligence of these villagers. He considered them unsophisticated and naive, and he mocked them by calling them "deniers." He told them they already achieved significant improvements in their standard of living, and it would be impossible (and not to mention irresponsible) to maintain their current living standards in the post-Peak Peat era.

There was another vaguely bothersome thing about this scaremonger villager. It a small thing, but bothersome nonetheless: since he traveled so much throughout Peat Village, he didn't exactly follow all of the peat conservation rules he set down for all the other villagers. When he stayed at inns and homes across the village, he would often enjoy peat fires and peat-heated food. He reduced his peat use slightly in his own home, but because he was so successful speaking, writing and teaching about Peak Peat, his thatched hut was one of the largest in the entire village. It took quite a bit of peat just to heat a small portion of his house! But in any case, he told himself, his personal use wasn't all that important. What was more important was that he get out the word about Peak Peat and the coming catastrophe that would inevitably follow.

Centuries later (our scaremonger friend lived for a very long time, you see), a new and revolutionary fuel came along. It was called "coal." Coal was hundreds of times more efficient than peat, far cleaner, and in every sense a superior energy source. In Coal County, which wasn't very far from Peat Village, homes and industries switched over to this new and advanced fuel. As a result, Coal County began to enjoy a significantly improved standard of living.

But not tiny Peat Village. They were still busy preparing for Peak Peat: conserving peat as much as they could, shivering over their tiny peat fires, huddling around their half-warmed meals, and earnestly following the rules and guidelines as they were told. Their standard of living hadn't increased at all for centuries, and their community never developed sufficient scientific or engineering expertise nor any extra economic capacity to make use of a newfangled energy source like coal.

In the meantime, our scaremonger friend continued traveling widely, spending the passing centuries getting the word out on the coming collapse of the peat-based economy. Since he’d already fully convinced everyone in Peat Village of his views (what few remaining "deniers" there were had been totally ostracized by the community), he often found himself traveling into Coal County to give speeches on Peak Peat. Sadly, he couldn't find many people in Coal County who were interested in conserving peat, as hard as he tried. Peak Peat just didn't seem to be a priority there.

One day, however, after giving yet another sparsely attended speech in Coal County, our very intelligent villager stumbled onto a brilliant insight: The supply of coal had to be limited too!

Once again, he could clearly see the inescapable logic: when the supply of a resource is fixed and demand is growing, it is only a matter of time before that resource runs out. It could be years, it could be decades, but the logic was inevitable: at some point--probably soon--Coal County would run out of coal. This would be an unmitigated disaster. A collapse in the coal-based economy was coming, and coming soon.

And he was right to worry about this. It was clear--to the point of obviousness--that there was a limited supply of coal. And yet every year more and more people were burning more and more of it. What would happen when, inevitably, all of it would get used up? Peak Coal was coming. Anyone who doubted so was clearly a denier.

Our scaremonger friend began traveling even more widely (even using coal-based modes of transportation) in order to get the word out. He created a list of rules and recommendations for coal conservation for the residents of Coal County to follow so they could avoid, or at least postpone, the inevitable Peak Coal catastrophe.

By this time, he hardly ever visited his friends back in Peat Village any more. With all of his important work on coal conservation, there was just no time.

Another century or two passed. Coal began to be replaced by a new and even better energy source called "oil." It was far more efficient than coal, hundreds of times less polluting, and all around an infinitely more flexible and useful fuel. In fact, it was such a superior fuel that throughout Oil Nation (which was just few days' journey by coal-powered steamship from Coal County) most homes and industries quickly switched over to this advanced fuel. As a result, Oil Nation enjoyed a much improved standard of living.

The residents of Coal County, however, were still preparing for Peak Coal: conserving as much coal as they could, huddling over their modest coal fires, and earnestly following the rules and guidelines set down by our scaremongering friend, just as they were told. Sadly, however, their standard of living hadn't increased at all for several generations, and needless to say, their community never developed the scientific expertise nor the extra economic capacity to make use of a newfangled energy source like oil.

Our scaremonger friend continued to travel widely, often using coal- and even oil-based energy to the extent he needed to. After all, spreading the coal conservation message was far more important than following a few minor rules, you see.

Interestingly, by this time, he never used peat-based energy at all. Why would he use such a laughably primitive fuel source, especially with such important work to do?

One fine day, while he was speaking to a mostly empty auditorium in Oil Nation (oddly enough, there wasn't very much interest in Peak Coal there), he hit on yet another truth. Admittedly it was a somewhat derivative truth, but it was staggering in its implications: the supply of oil had to be limited!

Once again, he could clearly see the inescapable logic: when the supply of a resource is fixed and demand is growing, it is only a matter of time before that resource runs out. It could be years, it could be decades, but the logic was inevitable: at some point--probably soon--Oil Nation would run out of oil. This would be an unmitigated disaster. A collapse in the oil-based economy was coming. And coming soon.

It was clear--to the point of obviousness--that there was a limited supply of oil, yet every year, more and more people used more and more of it. What would happen when, inevitably, it was all used up? Peak Oil was coming. Anyone who doubted it was a denier.

Our scaremonger friend redoubled his efforts. There was important work to do! He created a list of rules and recommendations for oil conservation for all Oil Nation citizens to follow, so they could avoid, or at least postpone, a Peak Oil catastrophe. He began traveling even more widely, all over Oil Nation and beyond, and his utterly logical and inescapable conclusions became so widely accepted and respected that he began receiving invitations to speak internationally at major conferences like Davos and the World Economic Forum. He became one of the world's wealthy elites, sharing his important and far-seeing knowledge through books, speeches and media appearances.

Needless to say, he never visited Coal County any more. His work on Peak Oil was far too important.

And of course, by this time we'd all but forgotten about the people of Peat Village.


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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

Are You Sure Your Farmer Wants To Get To Know You?

Readers, for the next few weeks I'll be doing some travelling, so please enjoy this post from Casual Kitchen's archives.
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The First Lady has planted a garden, organic, of course, and the Department of Agriculture is spending 50 million or so on a program called Know Your Farmer. The effort is likely to disappoint: in fact, a suburban housewife determined to know this corn farmer is likely to be mortified by my looks, the way I smell, and my opinions. I can't imagine why any resident of Manhattan would want to know me, and, trust me, some of my neighbors are even worse.

...One of the assumptions implicit in all this local food stuff is that we farmers are dying to make a connection with our customers. In many cases, nothing could be further from the truth. All we want is to sell corn and to be left alone.
--Blake Hurst, farmer and president of the Missouri Farm Bureau

I borrowed this striking quote from The Locavore's Dilemma, partly because it had me laughing out loud, but also because it illustrates an intriguing point about the food and ag business.

Take a Brooklyn hipster (no, really, take one!). Imagine her, freshly done reading one of Michael Pollan's books, and deciding, firmly, that she wants to get "close" to her food. She’s gonna know her farmer, man. Now she'll make regular trips to the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket, take a weekly subway ride to Manhattan's Union Square Farmer's Market, and maybe even once a month line up a Zipcar Prius to drive up the Hudson Valley (staying within 100 miles of course) to visit an actual organic farm!

Hipsters are usually quite good at irony. But there's one question, ironically, that this hypothetical Brooklyn hipster never thought to ask: what if her farmer doesn't want to know her back?

You'd think this imaginary friendly farmer, if he really wanted to know this hipster and others like her, would take a job where he'd actually get to meet hipsters. He wouldn't farm at all! He'd work at the Apple Store. Or at Whole Foods.

If you take Blake Hurst's word for it, most farmers just want to farm. They didn't sign up to meet hipsters and agri-intellectuals. That's the reason other people sell, distribute and retail their food: because selling, shipping, distributing, retailing and hipster-meeting isn't farming.

Think about this a little bit. Does your farmer want to know you?

Are you sure?


Related Posts:
Thoughts On Recipe Development
An Interview with "Appetite For Profit" Author Michele Simon
A Cup of Morning Death? How "Big Coffee" Puts Profits Before People
Did Newark Mayor Cory Booker Really *Try* With His Food Stamp Challenge?

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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

What Happens Once You've Cooked a Recipe 100 Times?

Readers, for the next few weeks I'll be doing some travelling, so please enjoy this post from Casual Kitchen's archives.
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Readers, do you have any recipes you've cooked so many times that you've lost count?

When you reach this point with a favorite dish, interesting things happen. You barely need to look at the recipe. Preparing it becomes relaxing, even meditative. You don’t think about the process steps and how to do them. Heck, you hardly need to think at all, and the recipe comes out great every time.

Despite all I've written here at Casual Kitchen, you'd think cooking would be meditative and relaxing for me all the time. You'd be wrong. Usually I try to avoid cooking--or even better, shirk it off onto somebody else. But there are several key recipes here, recipes like Chicken Mole, Risotto, Black Beans and Rice, North African Lemon Chicken and Groundnut Stew, that I've made hundreds of times, and I’m so comfortable with these recipes that preparing them becomes as mentally demanding as folding the laundry. Which is my idea of a meditative exercise.

My introduction to this idea was in New Zealand. Our friend Richard, who owns a cafe and catering company in the city of Christchurch, was teaching me how to make a "flat white" (like a cappuccino, only better). Coffee is a refined art in New Zealand and I was struggling to get it just right. The grounds needed to be pressed just enough, the milk needed to be frothed just right, and everything needed to be combined with just the right amount of flair. I screwed up several that went right into the wastebasket. Then, finally, I made one that got a passing grade. Maybe a C-minus.

Richard told me, "after you've properly made 200 of these, I'd let you in front of a customer." I stared at him. As naive as I'm sure this sounds, this was the first time I'd really thought about the concept of making something so many times that it becomes second nature, that you don’t have to think about it, and you can start to add your personality to the process rather than just complete the process.

These are the kinds of things you can do after you've cooked a recipe 20, 50 or even 200 times:

1) You can carry on a conversation while you cook, and pay sincere attention to both tasks.

2) You can scale up the recipe for a large dinner party or a big group with little additional stress.

3) The cooking experience becomes easy, even effortless.

4) You confidently modify the recipe, or add improvisational flourishes as you cook. You know exactly how the recipe works and you know what variables you can and cannot tweak.

5) You make it... and it tastes amazing every time. You may not even know why it tastes amazing, but it just does.

Perhaps this is the home cook's version of the so-called 10,000 Hour Rule. Then again, you certainly don't need 10,000 hours to get good--really, really good--at cooking. Why? Well, just do the math: It only takes fifty hours to make a 30 minute recipe one hundred times (the majority of the recipes here at CK can be made in under 30 minutes for $2 a serving or less). Using the time-saving strategy of heavy rotation--rotating in the easiest, least expensive and most-loved recipes on a twice- or three-times-a-month basis--you could hit the I cooked this 100 times mark with four or five favorite recipes within just a few years.

Which makes cooking healthy food for your family an even easier part of your life than it already is.


Related Posts:
Thoughts On Recipe Development
Making It a Treat
Re-Seasoning: Never Be Bored With Leftovers Again
The Paradox of Cooking Shows

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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

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