the stainless steel everyday pan as wok

I don’t know if you’ve heard the news recently or not, but people are growing more concerned about using non-stick pans over high heat. It seems that more than a few exotic tropical pet birds have died from the emissions produced when substances like teflon are raised above 500 degrees F (see: “The Way We Eat; Which Came First?” in the 1/8/2006 edition of the New York Times, for example.) This is because birds are very sensitive to environment, much like canaries are sensitive to carbon monoxide. People are naturally concerned about whether or not these gases are capable of harming humans, as a pans can hit 500 degrees F using the “medium high” and “high” settings of most stoves (when food is not present.) Are these tropical birds serving the same role as canaries used to serve in mines? Are they warning us of trouble that we should not ignore?

(For the record, the only symptoms known at present to arise in some people from exposure to the gases produced by non-stick pans are head cold-like symptoms that last for a few hours to a couple days. But, it’s probably better to be a little safer than sorry, right?)

The bulk of the cooking equipment I own is 18/10 stainless steel with copper cores, thanks to the generousity of others and a wedding registry. I do have a few non-stick pans for specialty applications, though, like omelet making and pancake making. I also have a non-stick Calphalon wok, which I often used in the past to stir fry atop our electric range.

So, while I don’t automatically use nonstick pans, I’ve decided to change my cooking habits a little bit. Stir frying in particular is an application for which I should probably not use a non-stick pan if gaseous emissions are a concern. After all, what do you do when stir frying but try to get that peanut oil, hot, HOT, HOT to get a good sear on the meat and vegetables instead of letting them steam?

Enter the stainless steel “everyday pan” — essentially, and stainless steel saute pan with rounded sites, and two short handles at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock instead of one long handle. I got this as a wedding gift as well, but I am ashamed to say that I haven’t made much use of it. I decided last Sunday to see how it would do as a wok replacement.

The short answer is that it does pretty well in some respects, not so well in others. Where it wins, hands down is in the heat department. It sets flat on the electric burner and can get hotter than a wok ever can. Wok cooking is supposed to be essentially non-stick cooking, however… and this is where it fails. The everyday pan is great at accumulating “fond” (cooked bits) in the bottom of the pan. In French cooking, this material is meant to be used to create a pan sauce. Asian stir frying is a slightly different beast, as far as I can tell. The wok is supposed to keep all the flavor on the food which can be augmented with a flavored sauce. Combine this with the fact that Asian cooking occasionally involves frying starchy foods (like rice, noodles, and sauces with cornstarch), and my everyday pan is not an ideal substitute for a good wok.

Of course, I was not displeased with the results of my “everyday pan as wok” experiment. Except for the few months when I was able to REALLY stir fry using a hand hammered, seasoned Chinese wok over a propane burner from a turkey frying set, the non-stick wok was rather… feeble. Food had to be cooked in shifts, in order to get a good hot sear and prevent steaming. My everyday pan had no such problems. I think I will just have to make a few adjustments (like being able to take up “fond” after cooking meat) when stir frying. I will perhaps need to seek out other, non-stick alternatives when making fried rice or chow mein… but hey, I don’t have to solve everything this instant.

The beef with string beans, carrots, celery, onions, and bell peppers in black pepper sauce was quite tasty… both that night and left over in the days since. I’ll call this a fairly successful experiment. I just have a little homework I need to do.

new cubicle neighbors…. for a while

Things are on the move at Company O., or rather I am. As a part of the continuing repercussions of last year’s management shakeup, various reorganized groups are now being co-located. What does this mean to me? Well, most of my fellow cublicle dwellers of long standing (say of 3-5 years) are moving to another building. I will be following next week. My current neighbors will be nearby, on the other side of the same floor of the same building. My new neighbors will be members of my department.

Until then, I have new neighbors. They are mostly closer to the customer relations end of the business — sales, marketing, software delivery management. On the one hand, I think this is very good. These folks are a lot more talkative and sociable — something that I don’t always see among my fellow engineers. I see a lot more women moving in, which again is a nice thing in the diversity department because 90% of my day is spent dealing with solely with men. Finally, some of these folks are much more immediately in my social circle — it turns out that one of my temporary cubemates went to high school with not one, but two of Mrs. Geek’s cousins.

One of the things that disappoints me about my current job situation is a lack of social life. Back in my university days, I made friends that I used to visit and enjoy outside the office. That really hasn’t happened in my job at Company O. That somehow seems a little more likely with my current crop of cube neighbors… True, it’s only an initial impression, but it seems a shame to leave them.

Oh well.

domestic disturbances

I’ve been reading Judith Warner’s Domestic Disturbances blog recently. I’m trying to make up my mind about whether I like it or not. Generally, I find Ms. Warner to be a source of sensible wisdom on several topics. Take, for instance, the current mania about the (completely unproven) link between immunization and autism: Ms. Warner points out that about 50-60 children have died in the last year or two from the measles and rubella in Europe and Japan where immunization has long been purely optional. She suggests asking the parents of one of those dead children if they still believe not immunizing their child was the right thing to do.

Her blog took a turn for the more annoying in my mind when I read her latest entry “The Inner Lives Of Men”. In it, she talks about how her husband calls her up one day to tell her something of personal import to him. Before he can tell her, she drops everything, shoos the children out of the room, and gives him her undivided attention. Well, undivided in real life… in the entry she digresses into a non-quite proven theory that men just don’t put their feelings into words like women because of a smaller, less complex corpus collosum… less connections between the hemispheres the brain make men less likely to put feelings into words. She then returns to the action: her husband calls home to say that he tried a sandwich with rye bread… which he really liked. Thus, it was proved that her husband really had no profound inner thoughts and feelings that he wants to share with her on a daily basis.

It’s all told in good humor, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, but it annoys me a little bit. She seems to want to pose the inverse of the question put to Eliza Doolittle by Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady: why can’t a man be more like a woman? I know that we men probably deserve this question, given how often we’ve railed about women not being more like men. I also think that we, as human beings, learn over time (as incremental and glacial as that learning can be)… and that we should recognize that men and women are different in a lot of ways. Can’t we all just be different and get along, people? Is not diversity in thought and discourse a politically correct ideal?

My anxiety level really ratchets up a notch or two higher when I read comments to the blog entry like this:

I was amused and a little frightened to read this because, as a college senior who has (as yet) been pretty much disappointed in the realm of the romantic, I’ve probably been secretly deluding myself with the belief that men improve after college. Clearly this is not the case. Clearly, too, I need to accept that if I want a guy to have a conversation like a “normal human being”, I should just stick to talking to the “normal human beings” known as women and gay men.

Yeah, I like hearing that I’m not a “normal human being”

But seeing as how I am a man, and therefore possessing no real inner life that I would want to share with my spouse, I suppose I can handle it all with a certain silent stoicism. Well that and take comfort in the sentiment expressed by Ms. Warner in the postscript to her entry:

For now that I’ve determined, once and for all, that he indeed does lack depth, has a rather limited inner life, and, I’m afraid to say, may well be far less intelligent than we’ve all previously imagined, there’s only one thing left for me to do: Treat him like a sex object.

with prosperity comes temptation

Since it is that time of year for State of the Union addresses, I am pleased to report that the fiscal state of the Dr. and Mrs. Geek union is looking decidedly brighter this year. Though I have not yet loaded up Turbo Tax, I have some hope that we will not end up owing the government income tax money this year. I also got a raise during the last year, and we finally paid off our pre-wedding credit card debt. We also made a pretty substantial dent in our remaining honeymoon debts… in spite of spending some money in the last few months on travel to the Land Of My Birth for the holidays and gifts for the relatives.

Some fiscal austerity measures have been in place since Mrs. Geek and I were married. There were times when I felt like I personally was simply spending money on only two things: bills and necessities (like food.) This is not to say that there wasn’t money in the household budget for some discretionary spending; there was — I’ve written far too much about my wine and whisky drinking habits plus some electronics purchases to think otherwise. It was always “watch every penny” kind of spending though… which I suppose is the best kind.

Now that see that we have some money in the bank, I’m now tempted to think about other purchases… of a more frivolous nature. For example, I’ve been eyeing and immersion-type electric deep fryer for some time now. Mrs. Geek loves a good french fry, and I’m having a yen for good fish and chips (and maybe hushpuppies too!) I haven’t gotten great results either using a large dutch oven on top of the stove… or the $15 deep fryer I got at Tarjhay. It would be nice to have a bright, shiny new toy that could keep cooking oil at a nearly constant temperature.

Of course, the prudent thing to do with the money is save and invest. This year may not be without its own fiscal uncertainties… plus there is some saving for retirement that Mrs. Geek and I need to catch up on. The adult thing to do is save for the rainy day. As Mrs. Geek sometimes notes, it is not always fun being an adult.

maybe it wouldn’t be hard to explain… if I only had a brain

I read an article this week about musical nostalgia, and the idea of re-buying back all the music of your youth.

The scenario the author described run something like this: you listen to that favorite Billy Idol record from the mid-to-late 80’s while you’re in high school or college until the grooves are almost worn out. You think Billy Idol rules; he’s the total shit. Then you grow up a little, go away to college, start listening to indy college radio, and buy a Nirvana (or a Soundgarden) CD. Billy starts making it to your personal play list less and less, until at some point in the mid-90’s the once beloved vinyl album sits on your shelf, gathering dust. That dust continues to gather, until you march down to the local record store, and sell your once prized album and trade it in for credit that gets you Re-Load by Metallica, or something. Fast forward 10 years, and you suddenly get an irresistable urge to connect with those high school years, and you march down to that same local record store to buy your Billy Idol collection over again.

Perhaps this is how other people do it, but this seems like utter crap to me. I never throw out or sell back music. Well, almost never. True, I did trade in my existing collection of original Atlantic released versions of the Led Zepplin catalog, but that was to buy the “Complete Studio Recordings” box set. I also gave away that Fat Boy Slim CD I got in the late 90’s… but he really pissed me off. I mean, what kind of narcissist produces a song with the only lyrics “Fat Boy Slim is fucking in heaven” repeated a couple dozen times?

I find that this pack rat-like approach to music pays dividends as my CD collection ages. I am now reaching the point where some of my collection is no longer in print. It’s not because the artists are bad — the work was well-reviewed at the time and is still quite enjoyable. No, the reasons are different and many. The artists merely failed to achieve lasting fame. The label they recorded for either no longer exists or is now run by very different management. Members of the bands went on to greater fame in different bands or under different names. I speak of artists such as MC 900ft Jesus, Dan Baird (of Georgia Satellites), Treat Her Right (half of which became part of Morphine), and Raging Slab (who are still out there today). These are bands whose work I would have a more difficult time buying back these days, because the CDs involved weren’t horribly common to begin with.

Of course, not everything I buy is something I listen to often. I don’t think I’ve listened to “The Zen Kiss” by Shiela Chandra (because it was on Peter Gabriel’s Realworld label) in a decade. Likewise, I haven’t listened to that Mind Funk CD in a long time. I got Victoria William’s “Musings Of A Creek Dipper” but could not get past her voice. Tanya Donnelly’s “Lovesongs For Underdogs” never made a deep impression. I keep all of them though. More than once, I discovered that a CD that struck me poorly at the time of purchase sounds better months or years later. Wilco’s “Summerteeth” falls into this category. I didn’t get where the band was at that time, but I had a change of heart since then.

No, I don’t sell back music. The music I buy is a constant and lasting connection to who I was and what I was doing at a particular point in my life. Selling off my CD collection would be like selling off part of my self.

But that’s just me.

some holiday bills arrive late…

I got a final little shock as a result of the holidays the other day. Mrs. Geek took some candid pics of me sitting with the relatives. I looked, well, large… rotund… at least a little more than I thought. Granted, some these pics were not me at my best, in any sense. But they were a wakeup call that I need work on thinning my middle a bit.

I’ve heard it said that if you really want to know what you look like, check out photos. Kind of like those videos they take on shows like What Not To Wear. You know the ones where people walk down the street in mustard-stained sweats and bunny slippers.

I don’t mean to make this sound like I suddenly realize that I’m a bloated, beached whale or something. I just was seeing the glass a little more full than empty where my personal fitness is concerned. I was kind ignoring the tight feeling around my waist for the last few months. Seeing a few pics from a few different angles kind of reinforced the suspicion that “yeah, I need to work on that.”

My weight and health issues are on my mind right now. I need to get a physical. It’s been a few years, plus I learned a while back that I have a family history of high blood pressure. Of course, the first thing that a doctor is going to recommend for that is diet and exercise… and I want to get the jump on this.

Though I don’t remember it much, I also obviously mentioned my weight when I was visiting my family in the Land Of My Birth. So much so in fact, that my Dad (who is losing weight because of said high blood pressure) sent along one of the dieting books he was reading over the holidays. Of course, he now weighs about 20lbs less than me. Maybe I should listen, as he’s obviously doing something right.

This was a pretty good week otherwise. I’m making good progress with data collection at work. In fact, I just got a Service Award, for being at Company O. for five years. I’m eating right, and I made it to the gym all five days this week.

Seeing the picture, just somehow suddently made me realize that I can feel a lot better… and be better, if I just try a bit. So, I’ll just call it a holiday bill that came a little late.

singing, weight gain, and house envy

This was an odd day. It was full of little snippets of things. Since they’re all kind of interesting, this entry it going to resemble potpourri. Please bear with me.

First off, I read this quote by Scott Storch. He’s producing Paris Hilton’s upcoming CD and had this to say about whether or not she could hold a note:

“If people are given the right circumstances and the right track and the right melody, it’s about the conviction. It’s not necessarily about being a God-given virtuoso.”

Umm. Yeah. That says it all right there. Conviction is what Paris Hilton is all about.

I also got e-mail this morning from my friend J. saying that he bought the house. He also sent a long more than a few pictures. I came down with a serious case of house envy. I showed the pics to Mrs. Geek and she groaned when she saw them. It’s pretty much everything we are looking for in our dream home. *sigh* The only consolation is that the house J. and his wife bought is not well-located for our needs. Mrs. Geek and need to find its twin, about 40 miles away.

Finally, I had a rather interesting conversation at the gym this morning. I ran into a co-worker named S. She and I have been going to the gym at about the same time off and on for the last couple years. S. wants to become a personal trainer in addition to being a Company O. employee. She is, therefore, fit… very fit. Somehow we got to talking about holiday pounds and she commented that she’s trying to gain weight. She’s a work-a-holic, you see, and she evidently lives on a diet of high protein Atkins diet bars, nuts, and the odd bit of salad. She’d love to be able to eat a little better and gain a couple pounds. Though thin, S. isn’t Calista Flockhart/Lara Flynn Boyle emaciated. She just looks very lean. I could only tell her that other women literally try to kill themselves to get themselves into that position.

That’s pretty much it for today. The roads were quiet, and traffic light. I always try to take small blessings like that when I can get them.