Growing up, I thought there was only one way to make a chocolate chip cookie. You started with the yellow bag of Nestlé Toll House chocolate morsels, followed the directions on the back, and nine to 11 minutes later you were rewarded with a tray of warm cookies. Simple as that. Fast forward 20 years, and there are now more recipes for chocolate chip cookies than I’d ever have a chance to make in my lifetime (although I’d be down to try). To distinguish themselves from the competition, they all claim to be the best, whether that’s because they’re the easiest, or the most flavorful, or the chewiest, or the softest.
I’m reminded of chef Alton Brown who regularly gives the cooking advice that one should never buy unitasker kitchen tools, but instead get multi-taskers that can do a variety of jobs. This typically cuts down on a lot of the mess and fuss in one’s kitchen and generally makes it a nicer place to prepare food. Nine times out of ten the unitasker is a much more expensive and infrequently used tool and ultimately gets lost in a junk drawer. More often than not, there are one or multi-taskers that can do a better job for far less.
In some sense social silos like Twitter (with functionality for notes and bookmarks), Instagram (photos), Facebook (notes, photos, links, etc.), Swarm (locations and photos), etc. are just like those unitaskers in the kitchen. They only do one (or sometimes a very few) thing(s) well and generally just make for a messier and more confused social media life. They throw off the mise en place of my life by scattering everything around, making my own content harder to find and use beneficially. On my own website, I have all of the functionalities of these four examples–and lots more–and its such a much better experience for me.
As time goes by and I’m able to post more content types (and cross link them via replies) on my own website and even to others’, I do notice that the increased context on my website actually makes it more interesting and useful. In particular, I can especially see it when using my “On This Day” functionality or various archive views where I can look back at past days/months/years to see what I had previously been up to. This often allows me to look at read posts, bookmark posts, photos, locations to put myself back in the context of those prior days. Since all of the data is there and viewable in a variety of linear and non-linear manners, I can more easily see the flow of the ideas, where they came from and where they may be going. I can also more easily search for and find ideas by a variety of meta data on my site that would probably have never been discoverable on disparate and unrelated social sites. That article I read in July and posted to Twitter could never be grouped again with the related photo on Instagram or the two other bookmarked journal articles I put on Diigo or the annotations I made with Hypothes.is. But put all that on my own website, and what a wonderful exploding world of ideas I can immediately recall and continue exploring at a later date. In fact, it is this additional level of aggregation and search that makes my website that much more of a valuable digital commonplace book.
I’ll note, as a clever bit of of search and serendipity to underscore the discussion of context, it’s nearly trivial for me to notice that exactly two years ago today I was also analogizing social media and food culture. Who knows where those two topics or even related ones from my site will take me next?
Neanderthals did not descale their teeth regularly, for which modern scientists can be very thankful. Embedded in the fossilized calculus, or tartar, on teeth from the Shanidar cave, in Iraqi Kurdistan, and elsewhere are some remarkable remains that are beginning to shed far more light on what Neanderthals ate. I don’t want to give too much away just yet. Let’s just say that if, like me, when you think of the Neanderthal diet you think of a bunch of cavemen and women sitting around chewing their way through a woolly mammoth, you’re in for a surprise.
My guide through the recent discoveries on Neanderthal diet is John Speth, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan.
Amanda Henry’s research clearly points to moist-cooked starch grains in the mouths of Neanderthals (but did they swallow?). Archaeologists, however, have found almost no evidence of Neanderthals using the hot-rocks boil-in-a-bag method of modern people who lack fire-proof containers. And surprisingly, they didn’t know what John Speth discovered while watching TV in a motel room: that it is perfectly possible to boil water in a flimsy container over a direct fire. In the interests of time I had to cut his fascinating description of an experiment to make maple syrup by boiling the sap in a birch-bark tray over an open fire, which concluded that it was “both efficient and worthwhile”. So, now that they know it can be done, how long before they discover it was done?
There is evidence that Neanderthals ate moist-cooked starch. There is evidence that one can moist-cook without fire-proof containers and hot rocks. All we need now is evidence that Neanderthals used similar techniques, and the palaeo-dieters can add a nice mess of potage to their daily fare.
- Microfossils in calculus demonstrate consumption of plants and cooked foods in Neanderthal diets (Shanidar III, Iraq; Spy I and II, Belgium). (A scientific paper.)
- National Geographic’s early report on Amanda Henry’s discovery of plant remains on Neanderthal teeth and a more recent report from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
- More on Neanderthal diets at John Hawks’ weblog.
- Photograph of the Regourdou Neanderthal mandible used by permission of the photographer, Patrick Semal, and the Musée d’art et d’archéologie du Périgord.
- Intro music by Dan-O at DanoSongs.com.
- Final music played by Ljuben Dimkaroski on a replica of a Neanderthal bone flute found in a cave in western Slovenia.
While I’ve read lots of research surrounding this area, this is the kind of area which more mainstream food journalists, entertainers, and educators could and should be covering. Aside from a semi-regular appearance of Deb Duchon, a nutritional anthropologist, appearing on Alton Brown‘s Good Eats, this may be one of the few places I’ve seen such an interesting interview of this type.
Flaxseed Oil for Seasoning Cast Iron
About two seasonings ago, I had come across an interesting concept surrounding flaxseed oil and have always meant to try it, but wanted to do some tests and comparisons of my own. After some research, I’ve found Sheryl Canter’s original article which now seems to be referenced by most serious food blogs and sites. I’ll try some tests with in the coming weeks and hopefully get around to reporting some of the results. Time to get the trusty microscope out for some photomicrography!
In the meanwhile, here are some links to what appear to be the forefront of material out there on the subject.
- Original article: Chemistry of Cast Iron Seasoning: A Science-Based How-To via Sheryl Canter
- Canter’s initial foray into cleaning and re-seasoning cast iron: Perfect Popovers (& How to Clean & Reseason Cast Iron)
Supporting Ideas and Criticism:
- Cooks Illustrated tests: The Ultimate Way to Season Cast Iron – How To Cook – Cook’s Illustrated
- LifeHacker article with references to pros and cons: Season Cast Iron Cookware with Flax Seed Oil for a Long-Lasting, Gorgeous Coat
- Chow Hound discussion with pros and cons as well as criticism on the science
Harold McGee on Cast Iron
The inimitable McGee has relatively little to say on the subject, so I’ll quote it briefly below:
It’s almost immediately apparent that Canter was inspired to use flaxseed oil by the standard go-to reference which mentions “linseed and other ‘drying oils'”. Since it’s somewhat illustrative of cast iron pans in general, though it doesn’t reference seasoning, I’ll also direct the reader to McGee’s article What’s Hot, What’s Not, in Pots and Pans (New York Times, October 7, 2008) as well as Dave Arnold’s article Heavy Metal: the Science of Cast Iron Cooking.
I’ll note that the Culinary Institute of America’s The Professional Chef (Wiley, 7th edition, 2001) only mentions cast iron in passing on page 91 and doesn’t even use the word seasoning. (There is a more recent 9th edition, which I don’t own, but I doubt it has additional information given the scant nature found in the 7th edition.) Similarly “Iron Chef” Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here for the Food (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2011) has some generally fine directions for the beginning chef interested in science, but it doesn’t go past either McGee or the bulk of the online blogs with the common wisdom for cast iron.
In the coming research, I’ll delve into some of the journal literature to see what else I come up with, though I expect that it will be scant at best and not much more than the often cited July 1986 study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association which discusses iron leaching out of pans into food substances.
Anyone with serious thoughts and ideas in this area is encouraged to share them in the comments.