Friday, December 28, 2007

Recipes with Media Content

There is a fair amount of software these days that takes into account the fact that sometimes, people want to include a photo (or two or three or more) with their recipe. And why not? Some people are pretty proud of their creations and they want to show them off. But it goes a little deeper than that.

Professional chefs need the ability to store and share recipe photos as well. Many chefs have very specific plating techniques that they want to be able to disseminate to their cooks. It's important for those cooks to have the ability to reference those techniques even when the chef is out of the kitchen. Usually just one photo is enough, but sometimes more than one is required. If you look at some professional cookbooks, you might see various techniques displayed step by step, photo by photo.

Sometimes, somebody may want to distribute other media with the recipe. I don't see a whole lot of recipes calling for audio-only files, but I do see the occassional instructional video distributed. Sometimes it really helps to have accompanying text with the video. The video may demonstrate a lot of good things that are hard to get across on paper, but once a person has seen the video enough times, they may only be interested in the recipe itself.

Recipe software needs to account for users wanting to include media with their recipes. It would also be nice if that media was supported outside of the software's internal recipe database. A lot of people would be interested in distributing their media-laden recipes, given the opportunity.

The Happs

I think I've managed to confuse a lot of people lately. The comments that I've been getting on my recent posts confirm that. First, without any warning whatsoever, I start posting all of these articles about what recipe software needs to be like. I didn't explain why I was doing it, I just did it. And then in the middle of it all, I disappear for a while. What's up with that?

Let me explain the easy one first. I was in Mountain View, California the week before Christmas. The training center that I was teaching at was on Castro Street (which is not the same Castro Street as in San Francisco). Castro Street in Mountain View is a center of cultural diversity. I was within walking distance of Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian, Indian-Chinese fusion, Irish, Greek, Scottish (?) and a few other types of restaurants. For the record, I don't recommend the Greek place. It was worse than crap.

Anyway, the point is, I didn't really spend much time on my computer in the evenings. And when came home, we had no Internet. Fortunately, the holiday season managed to distract me enough that I didn't miss it too terribly until today, when I finally got around to talking the new landlord into hooking up the wireless again.

As to the recipe software. Some of you may recall some time ago when I was working on something called the Open Recipe Format (ORF). Long story short, people got busy the project was back-burnered for a while. I still had it in the back of my mind, expecially lately. Then a couple of weeks ago, Tuxgirl was asking me some questions about recipe software. I got a wild hair and decided to start talking about what I wanted to get out of recipe software. I figured it would be the best way to explain to other developers why I want to do the things I want to do.

If somebody else takes a look at my articles and decides to write their own software, so be it. At least somebody is doing it. I didn't have a whole lot of time then, especially since it was really a bad idea to work on it at work. I work for a completely different company now than I did when I started ORF, and my free time is different. I still refuse to work on it while I'm in the classroom, but I'm starting to have plenty of time when I get back to my hotel at night. I'm hoping to spend some serious time working on it again.

In the mean time, I still have a lot to say about recipe software and I'm gonna keep saying it. It's great having your own blog, isn't it? I also have a couple of dishes that I've cooked and taken pictures of, so if that's what you read this blog for, stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Same Recipe, Multiple Scalings

Back when I actually baked professionally, we used to keep our recipes in binders around the bakery. These binders would be labelled with things like, "Breads", "Cakes and Cookies", and the aptly-named "Odd Stuff". The recipes in these binders were on standard 8.5" x 11" paper, hand-written into photocopied forms, and then stuffed into plastic protector pages. When a recipe was needed, it would be extracted from the binder, and the plastic protector page would keep the recipe from getting gross and icky as it was inevitably splashed with cream, melted butter, egg whites and the like. When we were done, we would wipe off the plastic and put the recipe back in the binder.

This was a fine system, except for one problem: the recipes were hand-written. Some were easier to read than others, and those which were faxed from one lodge to another were especially difficult to deal with. The executive pastry chef apologized at the beginning of the ski season for the hand-written recipes, and promised that solutions were being looked at. Many of you are thinking, what's the big deal? Why not just type up and print out the recipes like normal people?

Yes, they could do that. It would be a lot of work, probably taking up a week or so of a single baker's time, and when you're only open for 4 1/2 months out of the year, you tend to focus your energy during that time on managing the rest of the bakery. When the season is over, the majority of bakers leave town, often to work at another resort across the country or world until the next ski season. The skeleton crew that is left focuses their resources on other events for the next several months. And yet, that wasn't really the problem.

The problem had to do with how the recipes were laid out. Let's take my basic cheesecake for example. Sometimes, the bakery only needs to produce one cheesecake. This isn't often, but it happens. More often, something like eight cheesecakes would need to be made. Sometimes only four. Sometimes as many as twelve. With experience, these numbers were somewhat predictable.

We need the recipe for a single cheesecake. Even if we never make just one, this is the basis for which all other amounts will be calculated. We have eight spring form pans, but we rarely need to bake more than five cheesecakes at once. Except in the busy seasons, anything more than five would result in a shelf life longer than a week, which would result in a loss of quality. During the busy weeks, we may need to make eight cheesecakes at a time, and we may need to do so every other day. So we need, at the very least, ingredient lists printed up for 1, 5 and 8 cheesecakes. It would be nice to have them all printed up on the same page, mostly for manageability. And it would also be nice to have at least one or two extra columns on that page, just in case a new amount needs to be calculated (for instance, we buy another 8 spring form pans).

Going from memory (and likely leaving out some subtle details), the form (complete with the aforementioned cheesecake recipe) looked something like this:

 Oven Temp275F
 Oven FanLowHigh
cream cheese2 lbs10 lbs16 lbs 
white, granulated sugar1 cup5 cups8 cups 
large eggs42032 
vanilla extract2 tsp3 Tbsp
+ 1 tsp
5 Tbsp
+ 1 tsp

1. Preheat oven to 275F.
2. Allow the cream cheese to warm up to room temperature.
3. In a mixer, cream together the cream cheese and the sugar with the mixer's paddle attachment until light and fluffy.
4. Add the vanilla.
5. Add one egg and mix on low speed. When it is fully integrated, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and the paddle with a rubber spatula.
6. Continue adding eggs the same way, one by one.
7. When the mixture is smooth and there are no lumps, pour it into a prepared 9-inch round cake pan.
8. Move to a 275F oven and set the timer for 1 hour.
9. After an hour, jiggle the pan a little. If the center still seems liquid, close the door and wait a few minutes before checking again.
10. When the center is only a little wiggly (but no longer liquid), turn the oven off.
11. Leave the oven door open for 1 minute, and then close it again.
12. Allow the cheesecake to sit in the oven for 1 more hour as both the cheesecake and the oven cool.
13. Move the cheesecake to the refrigerator and chill for at least 6 hours (overnight is better) before attempting to cut and serve.

You'll notice that I've abandoned the format suggested in my post about standardizing recipes. I hope that I made it clear in that post that that particular format was not applicable to every kitchen. In the case of this bakery, it would only serve to add confusion and leave no room for multiple scalings.

Take note of the multiple scalings. First of all, this bakery would never have stuck with volume measurements. They would have been converted to weight almost immediately. You'll notice that each column is simply laid out, and easy to follow. Some bakers, to make sure that they don't accidentally look at the wrong column, would cover up the others with masking tape until they were done with the recipe. If they needed a temporary scaling, they would cover the last (blank) column with masking tape and write the new amounts on it. If they used it enough, they would pull out the actual paper and fill in a new column.

I added a couple of other things that I have not yet mentioned. The oven temp is clearly noted at the top of the page, so that the baker can set the oven without having to search the instructions for the temp, and then start to gather ingredients. There's also a place where the baker can circle whether they set the oven fan to high or low. Many professional bakeries make use of convection ovens which have only two fan settings: low and high (but not off). In retrospect, I think the bakery would rather have had a temperature setting for low, and another one for high. Maybe even a third one for "no fan", for their older ovens.

I do not know of any recipe software on the planet that takes all of these things into account. And from talking to other bakers, cooks and chefs, this feature is sorely needed. The corporation that owned that ski resort had spent years trying to find suitable software, and had come up empty-handed. The last I heard, they were working on building something in-house, and it did not look promising. The bakery was not interested in investing any time in typing recipes until the software was made available. Any significant difference in how they typed them and how the new software would handle data entry could represent days worth of lost time and duplicated efforts.

Let's say we got software that supported printing out multiple scalings one a single page. There's another problem here: saving the multiple scalings. Some of you are thinking, "why not just save the amounts for a single cheesecake, and then choose other amounts just before printing?" Let me ask you: have you ever made rice before?

I think Alton Brown summed this up nicely in the landmark Good Eats episode, Power to the Pilaf. Most rice packages instruct you to use one part rice to two parts water, by volume, regardless of how much rice you're actually making. But as he points out, you can actually cook one cup of rice in a cup and a half of water. Two cups of rice will cook nicely in 2 3/4 cups of water. And Three cups of rice will cook properly in 3 1/2 cups of water.

As much as we (especially programmers) would like to think that food fits neatly into our carefully-calibrated mathematical world, it does not. Food is organic. It is grown, largely by a set of rules that we still don't completely understand. No cup of rice is the same, no pound of flour. All that we can do, even in the best of times, is approximate. Doubling recipes will often work, to a certain degree. But there will be a point in which our ingredients will rebel against us, and only the hand of an experienced cook or baker will be able to control the chaos. And when that cook or baker discovers that their approximation has changed because of the sheer amount of food that they are making, they make a note of it. And if you think they want to figure it out every time, or let the next guy figure it out from scratch, you're out of your mind.

Recipe software needs to have the ability to not only scale properly, but also record the (user-adjusted) changes based on amount, and optionally print it out on the same sheet, with easy to reference columns side-by-side for the cook or baker's convenience. We don't currently have software that supports this. We, as home cooks, may not need it. But our professional counterparts do.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Adding HACCP to Recipes

Knowing what HACCP is is all well and good, but unless you know how to use it, it doesn't really do you any good. If we want to know how to add HACCP support to our software, we need to know what a finished HACCP recipe looks like. I'm going to incorporate the points laid out in my HACCP post with the layout that I used in my post about standardizing recipes.

For brevity, I'm not going to post the original recipe first this time. I'm going to use an old recipe that I posted some time ago for Kai Yang. If you would like to look at the original, complete with all of the flaws that I've talked about, go for it.
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons chopped fresh lemongrass
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons curry paste
1/2 teaspoon sriracha
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 cup lite soy sauce
1 cup veggie stock
Combine all ingredients in a blender. Mix well.
2 pounds dark chicken meat, in piecesAdd chicken and other ingredients to a resealable container.
 CCP: Chill to a temperature of 139F for a period of 6 hours.
 Halfway through the refrigeration process, turn the meat over.
 Remove the meat from the liquid.
 CCP: Because the liquid contained raw meat, discard the liquid as quickly as possible to avoid cross-contamination.
 Mark the chicken on the grill, then place on a sheet pan and move to a 400F oven.
 CCP: Bake the chicken until a thermometer placed into the deepest part of the meat reads 165F.
 CCP: Keep chicken at a temperature of at least 140F until it is served.
 CCP: If chicken is to be stored for service at a later time, chill to a temperature of 139F or lower as quickly as possible, and freeze or refrigerate no warmer than 139F.
 CCP:Chicken that has been chilled for storage should be heated to at least 165F before service, and then kept at a temperature of at least 140F until it is served.
 CCP:Chicken should not be chilled at reheated more than once. If chicken is not consumed after being chilled and reheated once, then it should be discarded.

That's a lot of critical control points, isn't it? And believe me, there could be more. I've decided to simplify, for the purpose of instruction. If NASA was sending my kai yang recipe into space, they would likely have several more steps marked CCP.

You'll notice that many of the CCPs focus on temperatures. This is one of the more critical components of food safety, and something likely to appear in almost every HACCP plan. I've also pointed out things like cross-contamination, and only reheating the product once. Technically you could probably get away with multiple reheatings, but the quality would suffer, and each trip between 41F and 140F (both cooling and heating) would accumulate as additional time that the food spent in the danger zone.

This is just a brief overview of what a recipe with integrated HACCP instructions might look like. Any serious commercial software should take such recipes into consideration, and possibly seek additional information from more experienced sources.

Friday, December 14, 2007


I've spent a good bit of time talking about recipes. I'd like to take a moment now to deviate somewhat from that discussion to give some background information on something called Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, or HACCP (pronounced "hassup").

Back in the 60's, when NASA was getting ready to send people up into outer space, they realized that they had a problem on their hands. If astronauts got sick while in the air, their ability to receive medical attention would be severely limited. The obvious solution of course, was to do whatever they could to prevent the astronauts from getting sick in the first place. One of the most crucial elements of this was exacting a level of control over the food that was sent up with them that would eliminate the chance of food poisoning.

Pillsbury was contracted to design, manufacture and provide the first space meals. HACCP was developed in order to keep food preparation well-within safe limits. It has proven to be very effective, and has since been adopted into other concerns outside of food, such as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

HACCP is based upon seven principles:

Principle 1: Conduct a hazard analysis
Procedures must be carefully inspected to discover at which points an unsafe practice may be introduced into the process. In terms of recipes, one may look at factors such as raw meat or eggs. If there is some item that may cause unsafe conditions to occur at any point, it should be noted.

Principle 2: Identify critical control points
A critical control point (CCP) is any step in the process when a control can be applied to limit, and hopefully eliminate unsafe actions. For instance, meat and poultry being cooked to a certain temperature to prevent salmonella, e. coli and other food borne illnesses.

Principle 3: Establish critical limits for each critical control point
This is the minimum and/or maximum limit to which a hazard must be controlled in order to ensure that it is at an acceptable level of safety. For example, poultry and ground meat should be cooked to at least 165F to kill off any pathogens that may be lurking within.

Principle 4: Establish critical control point monitoring requirements
We need to determine how to monitor the controls that have been identified to this point. Will a thermometer be required? Or is there some other mechanism that needs to be in place. In terms of meat and poultry, an accurate thermometer should be used to ensure that the inner meat has reached the appropriate level.

Principle 5: Establish corrective actions
If the above steps have been followed properly, then we shouldn't need to perform any corrective actions. But they do need to be in place, so that when something does go wrong, we have something to fall back to. If a pot of soup has dropped below 140F, then it needs to be removed from service until it has been properly heated to the correct temperature. If that soup has spent more than 4 hours (cumulatively, not at a time) under 140F, then it needs to be removed from service and discarded. If the time at which it has remained under 140F cannot be established, then it needs to be removed from service and discarded.

Principle 6: Establish record keeping procedures
This principle actually serves two purposes. If you've been able to keep proper records, then there will be no question as to how long that soup has been sitting out at under 140F. It's another layer of control that allows you to know, from start to finish, what the status (both safe and unsafe) of your product is at. If something goes wrong, this principle also provides you with proof (which may be helpful and/or necessary for legal reasons) that you either did something correctly or incorrectly.

Principle 7: Establish procedures for ensuring that the HACCP system is working as intended
It's all well and good to have a system in place. But if you have no way of knowing whether it's actually doing what you want it to do, then it's largely useless. Once you have your plan in place, you need another plan to make sure that the first one will work... before you even implement it. In fact, some organizations will not approve your plan without having this benchmark already in place. You may also find as you develop these additional procedures that there are holes in your HACCP plan. These procedures will let you know for sure one way or another.

Why have I made a point to explain HACCP? Many organizations are legally required to abide by these rules, and have their own HACCP plan in place. In fact, meat packers, egg farms and the like fall into this category. The corner bakery may not have the resources to implement and enforce their own HACCP system, but the hotel bakery probably will. And the corner bakery probably should, as soon as they're able. Recipe software that is expected to be used commercially needs to have features in place to accommodate such operations if it is ever to be seriously considered for use.

Standardizing Recipes

Having a properly-written recipe is an excellent step in the right direction. And for most home cooks, that's going to be good enough. But for professional kitchens as well as for control freaks such as myself (I'm a nerd, it comes with the package), there's still plenty of work to be done.

Standardizing recipes offers many advantages in a professional environment. When every recipe in the chef's binder looks the same, his or her cooks and/or bakers don't need to guess at things. As you know from my previous post, clear and concise instructions are a must. But having recipes that compliment the flow of the kitchen will convert time wasted thinking about what to do into time used doing what needs to be done.

One of my favorite styles of formatting recipes combines a neatly-ordered and easy to access list of ingredients alongside the applicable instructions for each ingredient, or group of ingredients. Let's use my suspiciously-familiar chocolate chip cookie recipe as a starting point:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 300F.
2. Allow butter to warm up to room temperature.
3. In a mixer, cream together the butter and the sugars with the mixer's paddle attachment until light and fluffy.
4. Add the vanilla extract.
5. Add one egg and mix on low speed. When it is fully integrated, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and the paddle with a rubber spatula.
6. Continue adding eggs the same way, one by one.
7. When the eggs are fully integrated, stop the mixer.
8. Whisk together and then sift the flour, baking soda and salt into the bowl.
9. Mix at the lowest speed with the paddle attachment until the dry ingredients are just barely mixed in, scraping as necessary.
10. Stop the mixer and add the chocolate chips.
11. Mix at the lowest speed for just long enough to mix in the chips.
12. Scoop onto cookie sheets with a #40 scoop, leaving room between the cookies to allow for spreading.
13. Move to a 300F oven and set the timer for 12 minutes.
14. After 12 minutes, look at the cookies. When they are just starting to brown on the edges, remove from the oven and allow to cool.

It's certainly much easier to reference here than in my tutorial, isn't it? This recipe serves as nothing more than a set of instructions for somebody who, presumably, already knows what they're doing in the bakery. They may not have seen this recipe before, but they can easily follow it.

Note the order in which I have the ingredients. Because the butter and sugars will be used first, they have been listed first. Wet ingredients are listed next, and then dry, because that's the order in which they will be added to the mixer.

In the instructions, you'll notice that I started with the oven temperature, since preheating it what will likely take the longest. In a professional bakery, the oven will likely already be preheated, but may not be at the correct temperature. Letting the butter soften takes a long time too, so it goes next.

This is a good recipe, but it we can improve upon it for professional use. Those of you that are deeply concerned about HACCP will appreciate these improvements.
 1. Preheat oven to 300F.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter2. Allow butter to warm up to room temperature.
3/4 cup granulated sugar3. In a mixer, cream together the butter and the sugars with the mixer's paddle attachment until light and fluffy.
3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract4. Add the vanilla extract.
2 large eggs5. Add one egg and mix on low speed. When it is fully integrated, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and the paddle with a rubber spatula.
 6. Continue adding eggs the same way, one by one.
 7. When the eggs are fully integrated, stop the mixer.
2 1/2 cups bread flour8. Whisk together and then sift the flour, baking soda and salt into the bowl.
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda 
1 teaspoon salt 
 9. Mix at the lowest speed with the paddle attachment until the dry ingredients are just barely mixed in, scraping as necessary.
2 cups chocolate chips10. Stop the mixer and add the chocolate chips.
 11. Mix at the lowest speed for just long enough to mix in the chips.
 12. Scoop onto cookie sheets with a #40 scoop, leaving room between the cookies to allow for spreading.
 13. Move to a 300F oven and set the timer for 12 minutes.
 14. After 12 minutes, look at the cookies. When they are just starting to brown on the edges, remove from the oven and allow to cool.

You'll notice that everything is in exactly the same order as before, but the ingredients are listed next to the steps that require them. This way we still have easy access to the ingredient list for shopping purposes and so on, without needing to read through the entire recipe to get everything. Also, the reader now has hints at a glance as to where exactly to expect the ingredient to be needed. This can help them prepare mentally in the middle of the actually cooking or baking process.

This recipe formatting may be overkill for most home cooks and bakers. But it may be helpful, if not essential, in many professional kitchens and bakeries. And quite honestly, it doesn't hurt the home cook either. In fact, they may come to like it.

Of course, this formatting will not necessarily be applicable to every professional kitchen. It may be that what we started out with is perfect for your operation. You need to analyze the needs of your staff and consider the other variables in the equation, such as kitchen layout, the ingredients that you work with, which equipment you have available, and so on.

The professional kitchen that wants to adopt this or similar formatting will want to make sure they do so for all of their recipes. You're not really standardizing anything until you do so. But having all of the recipes laid out in the same way, and having that way be efficient and easy to use will increase productivity.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Writing Recipes

If you're a regular reader here, then you will probably notice by the end of this post that I have broken almost every rule set forth in it, and still do so on a regular basis. I'm trying to get better. Whenever I get around to setting up an actual database of recipes from my blog, I hope to have time to rewrite them in accordance with these guidelines.

Consider the following set of instructions:

Mix together 2 pounds of cream cheese with a cup of sugar, using the paddle attachment. Add four eggs, 1 at a time, with 2 tsp vanilla. Pour into crust, bake at 275 degrees for 1 hour, then turn off oven and let cool inside for another hour. Chill for no less than 6 hours before serving.

Many of you might recognize this as a recipe for a pretty basic cheesecake. But it (the recipe) has a lot of problems, especially for commercial use. Ignoring for now the lack of instructions for the crust itself, let's take a look at a few of the problems.

First of all, there is no ingredient list. This is reminiscent of my earlier posts, where my intent was to tell a story, not necessarily provide a reference of any sort. If you want to find out what to shop for, you need to read the entire recipe and make your own list. Granted, you should read the recipe anyway before doing anything with it, but this adds an extra layer of work.

You may also notice that in some places numbers are spelled out, whereas in other places actual numerals are used. This makes it difficult for somebody to pick out measurements in a hurry. Speaking of measurements, you may also notice that full spellings and abbreviations are intermixed. This causes the same problem. It may be okay for emailing to cousin Vinny, but it'll never fly in a professional operation. "275 degrees"? Fahrenheit or Celsius? Probably Fahrenheit, but they should have specified.

"...Using the paddle attachment..."? Those of you with stand mixers know what's going on here, but what about everyone else? Most of these instructions are pretty vague. Who knows how that vanilla is really supposed to be added? In fact, it's almost like a reminder for somebody that's made this recipe hundreds of times, rather than a helpful set of instructions for somebody who's never made it before. It's almost as bad as some of the old Unix/Linux man pages. Then again, I've also seen some recipes who's instructions are little more than "creaming method".

Let's examine another version of the recipe:

2 lbs cream cheese
1c sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla

1. Cream together the cream cheese and sugar. Add eggs one at a time.
2. Slowly add in the vanilla with the eggs.
3. Pour into crust and bake at 275F for one hour.
4. After an hour, give the pan a shake. If it still looks liquid in the center, close the door and check again in a few minutes. When it just barely wobbles in the center, turn the oven off. Leave the cheesecake in the oven for another hour as the oven is cooling.
5. Let chill for at least 6 hours before cutting and serving.

Well, at least we have an ingredient list now. But what the heck is "1c sugar"? Probably a cup. Most people can figure that out. I say most, because some people (especially a more timid cook) may be confused and/or intimidated by that notation. Everything else in the ingredient list looks good though.

Step 1 already presents a problem. It should have been divided into two steps. And Step 2 isn't really any clearer than before. Step 3 should also be divided into separate steps, one of which should have started the recipe: "1. Preheat oven to 275F." By Step 4, we've pretty much given up on trying to divide up steps. The cook might have thought that it was pretty clear as one step, but when a single step is more than three times longer than any other single step, there's a good chance it needs to be rethought.

The recipe, unfortunately, still tends to be vague in some places and somewhat clearer in others. When you write a recipe, you should assume that the next person who looks at it has never seen it before. Don't try to give a cooking lesson in the recipe itself. If you need to tell a story, make sure you list the recipe outside the story as a separate entity. But if there is some subtle nuance, make sure to note it. Too many recipes have caveats that the creator knew about, and then assumed everyone else knew about too.

Let's consider a more properly-written recipe:

2 lbs (four 8 oz pkgs) cream cheese
1 cup white, granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 275F.
2. Allow the cream cheese to warm up to room temperature.
3. In a mixer, cream together the cream cheese and the sugar with the mixer's paddle attachment until light and fluffy.
4. Add the vanilla.
5. Add one egg and mix on low speed. When it is fully integrated, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and the paddle with a rubber spatula.
6. Continue adding eggs the same way, one by one.
7. When the mixture is smooth and there are no lumps, pour it into a prepared 9-inch round cake pan.
8. Move to a 275F oven and set the timer for 1 hour.
9. After an hour, jiggle the pan a little. If the center still seems liquid, close the door and wait a few minutes before checking again.
10. When the center is only a little wiggly (but no longer liquid), turn the oven off.
11. Leave the oven door open for 1 minute, and then close it again.
12. Allow the cheesecake to sit in the oven for 1 more hour as both the cheesecake and the oven cool.
13. Move the cheesecake to the refrigerator and chill for at least 6 hours (overnight is better) before attempting to cut and serve.

This recipe is a lot easier to handle. The ingredients are clear, and specific. The steps are all reasonably small, and have only one actual instruction per step. Each step is reasonably clear, and while it does not explain what might go wrong if you ignore the instructions (that's what cooking classes are for), it does give you the proper instructions with the nuances noted (such as scraping the bowl and the paddle). It could probably still use a bit of improvement, but at this point it's in pretty good shape.

Like I said, most of the recipes on my blog are not this well-written. It's pretty painful for me to go back and look at a lot of my earlier material. But it's even more painful for me to think about changing an entry, at least without some sort of revision control to save the old format, as a reminder of how I used to write. But one day I do plan on rewriting as many recipes as possible and making them available in a much easier-to-use database.

When you start publishing recipes of your own, you'll want to take these guidelines into consideration. I'll refer to them in upcoming posts, which will make them just that much more relevant.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Volume Measurements

One of the biggest problem I've seen with commercial recipe software is in scaling recipes. Say you have a recipe that yields four portions. This is normally perfect for your family, but you have extended family coming over this weekend and you need eight portions. Just double it, right? No problem.

What if you've managed to track down a recipe that normally feeds 50, and you need it to feed your small family of four. What do you do now? That's easy. Just plug it into your home recipe program and suddenly that cup of Worcestershire sauce becomes... 0.08 cups? How the heck are you supposed to measure that? Such a pain. How about if I told you that 0.08 cups was equal to 0.64 fluid ounces? Is that any easier to deal with? Not really. What if I told you that was roughly the same as one tablespoon plus one teaspoon? Okay, we can handle that.

What recipe software needs to do is give us answers in terms of fractions and measurements that may have different names that what we entered, if necessary. For instance, we entered cups, but what we needed back were teaspoons and tablespoons. Decimals are fine for scientists and maybe wholesale food operations, but not for home users, and not even for most professional kitchens.

First of all, we need a basic breakdown. How many of X are in Y? Note: These measurements are standard US (imperial) measurements. Metric is easier, but not as common in my country.

1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons
1 fluid ounce = 1 tablespoon
1 cup = 8 fluid ounces
1 pint = 2 cups
1 quart = 2 pints
1 magnum = 2 quarts
1 gallon = 4 quarts
1 peck = 2 gallons
1 bushel = 4 pecks

Okay, so magnums are usually only used in winespeak. And pecks and bushels aren't all that common, even in commercial kitchens. The highest they usually go is gallons, though at that level of production, they usually measure by weight. But that's another topic altogether.

It should also be noted that we occassionally measure in fractions. Most home and professional kitchens have both measuring cups (usually 1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup, 1/4 cup) and measuring spoons (usually 1 Tbsp [tablespoon], 1 tsp [teaspoon], 1/2 tsp, 1/4 tsp). Oddly, 1/2 Tbsp, 1/3 Tbsp and even 1/3 tsp are pretty uncommon. Then again, we already know that 1/2 Tbsp = 1 1/2 tsp and 1/3 Tbsp = 1 tsp. 1/3 tsp gets left in the cold. Also, many cooks refer to a dash and a pinch as roughly 1/8 tsp, where a dash is for liquid ingredients and a pinch is for dry.

So we need software that will give us measurements using the smallest and/or easiest version of the following measurements:
  • 1/8 teaspoon
  • 1/4 teaspoon
  • 1/2 teaspoon
  • teaspoon
  • tablespoon
  • fluid ounce
  • 1/4 cup
  • 1/3 cup
  • 1/2 cup
  • cup
  • pint
  • quart
  • gallon

Other measurements are nice, but these will be sufficient for most operations. But that still doesn't help us in terms of actually setting up software. We need a common measurement that is easy to work with, that everything else can be converted to and from. Fortunately, in this measurement system (for both weight and volume) we have ounces. Every whole measurement larger than an ounce can be calculated in terms of full ounces, and everything smaller than an ounce can be calculated in terms of fractions of an ounce. But that still doesn't solve the decimal problem.

When it comes to decimals, we're going to have to do some rounding. I would personally prefer my software to tell me both the decimal value, and the approximate fraction(s) that that relates to, and let me choose. I suspect most bakers would start off wanting just the fraction, and after a week of failed pastries demand to know what the decimal would have been, so that they can adjust accordingly. Most cooks (non-bakers) would likely be fine with the approximations.

Note: this table will attempt to be conservative, for instance, only covering the values up to half an ounce. That should be sufficient for our needs. Since you would not normally be hard-coding values, I'll also include the fraction of an ounce. If you can't figure out how to convert fractions into division in your code, it's time to pick up a new hobby/career.

1/8 teaspoon = 0.020833333 oz (1/48 oz)
1/4 teaspoon = 0.041666667 oz (1/24 oz)
1/2 teaspoon = 0.083333333 oz (1/12 oz)
1 teaspoon = 0.166666667 oz (1/6 oz)
1 tablespoon = 0.5 oz (1/2 oz)

This tells us exact values. Unfortunately, few of our recipes will scale to exactly these amounts. So we round.

1/8 teaspoon = 0.020833333 oz (1/48 oz)
  0.03125 oz (1/32 oz)
1/4 teaspoon = 0.041666667 oz (1/24 oz)
  0.0625 oz (1/16 oz)
1/2 teaspoon = 0.083333333 oz (1/12 oz)
  0.125 oz (1/8 oz)
1 teaspoon = 0.166666667 oz (1/6 oz)
  0.25 oz (1/4 oz)
1 tablespoon = 0.5 oz (1/2 oz)

Anything smaller than 0.03125 oz is considered 1/8 teaspoon (a pinch or a dash), anything between that and .0625 is considered 1/4 teaspoon, and so on.

This is a pretty basic operation. Many years ago I had a Perl subroutine that did this for me (with a good bit of help from Harley), and I've managed to lose it. One day I'll write it again, unless somebody else beats me to it. But it seems to me that any recipe software worth using would take the above information into account.

Many thanks to TuxGirl for helping me with the math, since I'm so horrible at it myself. Yet another reason why I need my software to do my thinking for me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


Being in the Financial District of San Francisco, my hotel is actually less than a mile from the famous San Francisco Chinatown. I decided to take a walk over there this evening to see what I could see. First things first: I did not buy food there. Deal with it.

On the way there, I walked by what seemed to be an adult video store, which had a neon sign in the window advertising watch repair. I decided against going in to ask about it. I had more important things to deal with. I don't think I was in Chinatown just yet, but about half of the businesses that I walked by had Chinese signs on them. As I looked down the sidestreets to my left, I could see a plethora of Chinese shops. I knew I was close. What I didn't know was how close. Had I walked down any of those streets, I apparently would have been in Chinatown a block later.

I did eventually find my way first to Stockton Street, and then to Grant Street. According to Wikipedia, Stockton is supposed to be more authentic, but the parts that I saw seemed pretty touristy to me. Grant seemed pretty dead. Maybe I was on the wrong part.

TuxGirl told me that I needed to find jade chopsticks. Apparently one of her teachers in elementary school had a pair and she's been coveting them ever since. Of course, she didn't actually tell me to pick her up a set, so I thought I'd grab a set of my own and just taunt her with them.

I decided that it would be best to find a gift shop. The first one I saw looked colorful, and had little toys displayed out front, next to a large sign that proclaimed, "Gift Shop". As I walked in, I immediately realized that the majority of what they considered to be gifts were actually extremely expensive-looking blown glass. As I walked in, a somewhat thuggish-looking man (who was very American-looking and sounding) asked me if he could help me find anything. I politely declined and informed him that I was just looking. As I walked through the store and looked at all of the things that I could never afford, he followed silently behind. Perhaps it wasn't such a good idea to be wearing my biker jacket in there.

At one point, he informed me that everything was 50-75% off, and then fell back again, to follow me from a comfortable distance. I decided I'd had enough and I left. As I walked out, I saw a very thuggish-looking Chinese man watching the door. I'd never seen a gift shop, or a blown glass shop before that came complete with its own bouncers.

I found another gift shop that looked like it specialized in cheap t-shirts. They had chopsticks, but nothing in jade. But they did have children-sized Cheongsam dresses and jumpsuits. You have no idea how long I've been trying to find Cheongsam jumpsuits. I bought a red dress and pink jump suit for my daughter, and let the shop owner talk me into buying the accompanying shoes and hand bags. He assured me that he wanted my daughter to look good. I didn't mind so much, considering that I only spent $35 on everything, and he tossed in a free pink coin purse for her.

I asked him if he knew where I could find jade chopsticks, and I told me to walk a block one way and go across the street. I did so and found the shop that he was likely talking about, with boards in its windows. They were apparently closed. I kept walking and found a couple more likely gift shops. The first one was so packed full of trinkets that I couldn't move through it without making something or other jangle around me. I couldn't even see the face that belonged to the voice telling me that no, he had no jade chopsticks. The next shop wasn't as full of junk, but the woman told me that she didn't have any either, and such a thing would be difficult to find.

Two doors down, I located a market that seemed either to have several stores inside, or have one store with several registers only serving that department. I saw a sign on the second floor advertising jade, and made my way up. I asked the man if they had any jade chopsticks, and he directed me to the gift shop downstairs. I got there and found several very nice-looking jade chopsticks, at only $15.99 for two pairs. I don't know that it's actually real jade, but I grabbed some anyway. I plan to email a photo to TuxGirl later to taunt her.

I decided to be finished for the evening and head back to my hotel. Naturally, I got lost almost immediately. Fortunately, I only went two blocks before realizing that I was going in the wrong direction, and four blocks later I was back to a location that I recognized on Kearny Street, headed back to my hotel. I stopped by a place called Kearny Street Pies on the way, which was owned by a Brit. Disappointingly (or perhaps reassuringly?) there was no barber shop upstairs. The chicken pie wasn't very good, but I liked the beef pie. The mini raspberry tart was a little too sweet, but it all went very well with a can of Orangina.

By the time I got back to my hotel, I was sweating. It was cold enough to require a jacket, and mine was just light/heavy enough to be perfect outside and way too hot inside, even in the stores that didn't seem to have front doors. I brought a lighter jacket with me, so maybe I'll go back tomorrow wearing it instead.

Monday, December 3, 2007

I Left My Mouse in San Francisco

Actually, I left it in Montreal. But the training center there was kind enough to ship it back to me, so that I might be able to bring it to San Francisco with me. Hopefully I won't forget it this time.

As you've probably already guessed, I'm in the bay area this week! My hotel and training center are both downtown in the financial district, about a block from each other. And both are just a couple of blocks from the BART station. That means I don't have to drive this week! A definite advantage in this town. I also seem to be within a five minute walking distance from several tasty-looking restaurants, which hasn't stopped me from ordering delivery my first night here, and room service my second night here. I blame The Cave.

The airport seemed nice enough. I had looked up info on BART before flying out, and didn't recognize immediately that the airport's air train is not the same thing as BART. I spent several minutes trying to figure out where to buy BART tickets before finally realizing that I was not yet at a BART station. Oops!

BART is awesome. When I hopped on at the airport, it was mostly empty. It stayed that way for the majority of the half-hour trip to downtown. A couple of stops before mine it started to fill up pretty quickly. I ended up vacating my spot for a tired-looking black woman for the last couple of stops. A lot of the trip is underground, which I was pretty happy about because for some reason that I can't explain, subways have always fascinated me.

Having done a little research, I am hugely impressed with the public transportation in the bay area. Everyone knows about the trolley system, but I don't think most people outside of this area really understand how awesome the trains are. I've been hoping beyond hope that Salt Lake would get its act together and get commuter rail running, and this didn't help. Let's move it, people!

Unfortunately, the ease of my journey stopped when I left the station. Have you ever been walking around downtown and noticed a guy that seems to be wandering aimlessly, on a path who's logic is known only to him? That was me. I knew that my hotel was only a couple of blocks away, but I didn't know in which direction. I would walk a block or two, then turn around and walk back to the subway. Even the homeless man asking for money started giving me strange looks. Finally I decided to consult the GPS. It got me going in the right direction, and then lost signal (did I mention the large number of large buildings in the area?). I overshot my hotel's street by three blocks before turning around and finding it. Then I walked past my hotel on the other side of the street and had to go back again.

It's a nice hotel. A lot like the one I stayed in in Montreal, except with a much smaller room and no crazy girls trying to bring me chocolate and bottled water. No room service on Sunday, so I ordered pizza and fried ravioli from a local Italian joint. It was okay, but nothing to write home about. No Food Network on the TV, and the only channel worth watching is Discovery. Tonight Discovery is too fuzzy to watch. Last night I woke up to the sounds of sirens. A lot. Mostly it sounded like fire engines. I hope it wasn't my building.

The training center was easy to find. Walk across the street, go a block, turn right, go half a block, and I'm there. It's the third Microtek center that I've taught in, and it's pretty nice. My students all seem pretty bright, and even the ones that claim to have only limited (if any) experience in Linux are doing quite well (it's a sysadmin class). They tell me that sirens are a common sound in San Francisco.

The walk back seemed even shorter than the walk there. In fact, it didn't seem to take longer than a couple of minutes. For my cousin Ali: I really was going to walk somewhere to eat. But the reuben on the room service menu had been calling my name since Sunday night, when I was informed that room service was closed on Sunday. I also ordered a Shirley Temple. I haven't had one of those in a good couple of years and man, was it good. I'm going to stock up on grenadine when I get home. The reuben was pretty good too, if a little heavy on the sauerkraut.

It's only 7:45ish here, but my brain is still on mountain time, so it feels a little later. This is really going to mess with me when I get to Houston next week. But for now, I can enjoy what really does seem to be one of the greatest cities on the planet. Assuming I ever leave my hotel room, of course.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Finally Reinstalled! Yay!

It was a tale of tragedy, a tale of woe... almost. But I'm already getting ahead of myself.

My notebook is somewhere around four years old. It was a good computer when I got it, but it wasn't long after the warranty expired (two weeks, as I recall) that the CD-ROM drive started to die. At first it refused to read any burned CD, but pressed CDs were still okay. It was about that time that I finally wiped the Windows XP install that came on it and installed version 5.10 of Ubuntu Linux. Shortly after that, the computer refused to read any CDs at all. Score one for Sony.

Fortunately, Christer helped me upgrade to version 6.06 some time later. Unfortunately, the upgrade did not go as well as I had hoped, and I began to get paranoid. Not long after that, I made a mistake. I tried to install a new Perl package via CPAN. I was working on a lot of things that day, and perhaps not spending enough mental energy on some of them. I learned an important lesson that day: if CPAN asks whether you want it to update your version of Perl, tell it No. Exit out of CPAN and install it via yum or aptitude instead.

To make a long story short, I broke a lot of things that day. The easiest thing to do would have been to back everything up and just reinstall. Unfortunately, with no CD-ROM drive, that didn't seem to be an option. So I repaired things the best I could and lived with it. I take comfort in the fact that at least it was a broken Linux system. If the number of things that had gone wrong had happened in Windows, I would have been completely screwed.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago, when I learned that Ubuntu could be installed over the network using a combination of kickstart and PXE. This seemed like a good plan, because my computer does not support USB boot (another point for Sony), but it does support PXE booting. I decided to read up on it and see if I could get it to work. Then I went on the road for a couple of months in a row, and got distracted. By the time I got back, Christer and Clint had figured it out.

I managed to go about a month without leaving town, and Christer and Clint spent that month trying to convince me to reinstall. My paranoia kept me from doing anything until yesterday. As a Linux instructor, I'm dead in the water without my computer. I was afraid that something would go wrong in the middle of the install, and that I would have to go back on the road before I had time to fix it. Finally, I backed everything up and went for it.

The installation seemed to be going well. I had booted to a PXE server that Christer and Clint had set up an Ubuntu install on, and I was already to the copying files stage. That means that my drive had already been wiped, and that I was way past the point of turning back. Then my notebook decided to overheat and turn itself off, without warning (and Sony scores against me yet again). I propped it up to get some airflow underneath, found a portable fan and pointed it at the hot spot on my computer and started over.

Things were going well. All of the files had been copied from the PXE server, and the installer was downloading files from Ubuntu's security server. Then it stopped. I mentioned it to Christer and he said that his Internet connection had died too. We went to check on the PXE server (which was also playing the role of router) and realized that somebody had decided to reinstall it, to get it ready for class on Monday. My worst fear was coming true: there were problems with the install, and I might be without a computer for the next month.

I considered my options. Christer had not yet had backed up the Ubuntu PXE code, but the Red Hat code would be in-tact when the server came back. I've PXE installed RHEL5 more times than I can count, and I knew that I could get it working pretty quickly. Of course, I didn't know if my wireless network card was supported in Red Hat like it is in Ubuntu, and I wasn't looking forward to spending a month with an enterprise version of Linux on my personal computer. Then I realized that the installer had paused, and was giving me the option of retrying. The PXE server had already done its job, and my computer had everything it needed except for its security updates. All I had to do was wait for the Internet connection to come back, and assuming my computer didn't overheat and shut itself down again, I might be good to go.

The server took forever to install. Our auto-installer at work sets up a PXE install for multiple versions of Red Hat, SuSE and even OEL. When it finally came back, I pressed ENTER on the Ubuntu install and crossed my fingers. Half an hour later, I was ready to start customizing my brand new install of Ubuntu 7.10, aka Gutsy Gibbon.

The person who caused my pain (he knows who he is) will be forgiven soon. Until that point he knows that I am still mad at him, and he can safely assume that I am still shaking the fist of doom at him, even in my sleep. In the meantime, it's nice to finally have a completely working installation of Ubuntu again, and even nicer to have a working Perl install again too. No more installing Perl packages manually using make, no more installing Ubuntu/Debian packages manually using dpkg. The world is a happy place again.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Creatures of Habit

We are all creatures of habit. Some are worse than others, of course. Anthony Bourdain has been known to slam on people who visit far away places and refuse to eat outside of the hotel restaurant. Their habit (one of them, at least) is eating safe, familiar food. Bourdain's of course (one of them) is talking about how disappointed he is by that.

I just realized that I'm about as bad as they are, at least in some respects. Unbelievably, we actually have good barbecue in Utah. I'm sure that the proprietors are from out of town, but I'm glad they decided to make Utah their home, and make fabulous food their livelihood. A couple of friends of ours stopped by this evening, and decided that they needed to experience Lon's Cookin' Shack. I opted to stay home and babysit while they went out and got our food and brought it back.

When they asked what I wanted, I told them to ask if they had any smoked turkey, and then they inevitably said that they were out of it (which they always are), then to order me a pulled pork sandwich. A few minutes after they left, they called to tell me that Lon's was closed for the day, and that they were going to go somewhere else. They were considering either Costa Vida or Cafe Rio, which have nearly identical menus (and food), with only very slight variations.

I told them that my wife already knew what I wanted (the pork salad). As I was telling them this, they seemed to decide upon Costa Vida, and I began to give them specific instructions. I told them to ask for the mango dressing, and when the people behind the counter interpreted that as "mango salsa", to point at the mango dressing specifically and say that's what they wanted. Of course, they would not get mango dressing, because the people behind the counter are largely idiots who will give you their crappy creamy ranch dressing regardless of what you order. Of all of the dozens of times that I've ordered mango dressing, I've gotten it twice.

As I was explaning this to them, I was informed that they had just decided upon Bombay House, what what would Ilike from there? Without hesitation I informed them that I would like a chicken tikka masala. They agreed that it was a fabulous choice indeed and hung up.

It occurs to me that I have a few habits here. One is to find a favorite dish and stick with it. I can only assume that the other dishes at Costa Vida are fabulous, but the first one I ever ordered was the pork salad, and they've done such a good job with it that I often think that if it was the only dish I ever ate in my life, I might be content. With as little as I treat myself to their food, why would I ever order anything else?

I also know my restaurants. I know what I want to order, and how the employees are going to act, regarless of who is actually behind the counter. It's like ordering from the soup nazi. "Wait, I haven't even told you how to order!"

Most annoyingly is my lack of deviation. How can I expect to be a good chef if I don't try new things? It disturbs me on several levels. The most disconcerting to me is not my unwillingness to try new menu items when I've already decided upon "the usual". The thing that worries me most is that my obsessive-compulsive tendencies put up a pretty convincing fight. If only I could find a way to use my powers for good.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Utah Chocolate Show 2007

Another chocolate show has come and gone, and I'm happy to say that from what I could tell, it went even better than last year. Then again, I didn't make it to all of this year's. Friday afternoon I fell ill, and subsequently spent all of Saturday in bed, missing out on the second half of the show, as well as that evening's B-52's concert downtown. But at least I can tell you about the show up through Friday.

The show actually started this year on Thursday evening, with a VIP night. If you were looking to experience the show without any children, then that was the night to go. I was there, but I spent my time at the door, taking peoples' tickets. Those tickets were significantly more expensive than the rest of the evening, but I could swear that a good couple of hundred people thought that the extra few bucks were worth it.

Thursday night was supposed to be ages 18 and up only, but that didn't stop a lot of people from bringing their kids anyway. One mom even seemed to have instructed her children to hide behind her as she handed us her tickets. She obviously knew the rules, and being Utahn, decided to try and flout them rather than follow them. Other people didn't seem to know the rule, despite the fact that it was printed right on the ticket.

I also volunteered all day Friday, but the organizers kindly gave me the first couple of hours off, so that I could experience the show as well. I got there early, and was inside the showroom before the doors opened. I found myself in a circle with Matt Caputo of Tony Caputo's (they have the largest selection of chocolate in the state), Art Pollard of Amano Chocolate, and Chris Blue, owner of the newly-opened Chocolatier Blue. They were discussing an article involving Raymond Lammers, executive pastry chef of Stein Eriksen Lodge. It was interesting to listen to these three professionals, who I think are on the forefront of putting Utah on the chocolate map.

I walked around and tasted a lot of chocolate, and occassionally other sweets. There was a lot of bad chocolate there. There was a fair amount of pretty mediochre chocolate there. And of course, there was a bit of really good chocolate. Most of the really good chocolate was showcased at the booths manned by the aforementioned professionals. In fact, expect upcoming articles about at least of couple of them.

I also tasted some honey there, fresh from Lehi, UT. It was actually some of the best honey I've ever tasted. I almost bought some. Keep in mind that I've never really been a big fan of the taste of honey, and I really liked this stuff. Check out Knight Honey if you ever get a chance. And let me know if you find their website.

I got to help out Ruth Kendrick with her ganache class, and after that her neice Susan LaHargoue's chocolate class for kids. Both are amazing teachers, and it's always a joy to help them in class, even if all I did for Susan's class was prep work beforehand.

It was good to see Tony Caputo's have a booth there. They also handled the chocolate tastings this year, which I regrettably was unable to attend. I found out on Friday that they were apparently there because of my review from last year's show. One of the show staff ran across the post and tried contacting the vendors mentioned both by me, and in the comments. Caputos's was apparently the only one who took them up on it, and from what I heard from Matt, they were glad they did. Liberty Heights Fresh, Pirate O's and Baker's C&C didn't bother to show up. I think this is critical. All of the business that could have gone to them at the show went to Caputo's instead.

It was a good show, and I regret having to have missed it on Saturday. I think I would have been happy to just spend both days wandering around the booths, and watching cooking demos and taking classes. Mel Henderson did a good job with things this year, and I'm already excited to see how she pulls things together next year.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Southwest Tilapia

I've been watching Iron Chef America again. To be honest, all that I remember is a square of fish (probably swordfish) perched atop a square of grilled pineapple. I suppose in retrospect I could go back and watch the episode again, but I doubt it would make me stay any truer to the dish that inspired me. I guess it's better that more of it is my own creation.

I decided to go with a rectangle instead of a square. I didn't have any swordfish so I went with tilapia. At least I did grill the pineapple, but not the fish. I cut it to the same length as the pineapple, oiled it down, sprinkled it with Kosher salt and chile powder, and then sauteed it. For a sauce, I blended together some papaya, heavy cream and a little chipotle Tabasco.

The pineapple went down on the plate and the tilapia went on top of it. I added a couple of spoonfuls of tropical salsa, and then garnished the plate with my sauce and a little chopped cilantro.

In retrospect, I think the sauce and the cilantro made a perfectly nice-looking plate look pretty messy. On the plus side, the flavor did compliment the rest of the dish quite well. I also wish I would have had a circular white plate to contrast the sharper angles of the pineapple and the fish, instead of my squarish white plate. But hey, practice makes perfect, right?

Caloric Intakes

When I visit the in-laws, I occassionally subject myself to television shows that I would not normally watch. Last night I was reminded once again why I don't bother watching the travesty that is 60 Minutes.

A story was aired concerning calorie counts on fast-food menus. Those of you who have been to Subway lately may have noticed that their menus now proudly display the numbers of calories next to each sandwich. They note that the calorie count is for a 6-inch sandwich, which is fine with me. As the report so expertly noted, the calorie count does not include customizations to your sandwich, a feature which has always been key to Subway's business. Let's face it, you'd have to be an idiot to think that changing the ingredients in your sandwich wouldn't change its calorie count.

In what I'm sure was supposed to represent America as a whole, the reporter (who most assuredly knew better) played the part of the idiot. Her sandwich, which according to the menu would have contained less than 400 calories, ended up weighing in at just shy of 800 calories. This was because she opted for a 12-inch sub, and requested that it be loaded up with mayo. She complained that now she had to do math in her head (which must have been an excruciating experience for her), and that the obscene amounts of mayo that she requested were not tabulated anywhere. Her supposedly-healthful sandwich was now going to add nearly 800 calories to her daily intake! Can you imagine if she had three of those in a day? She'd be just shy of the recommended daily intake of 2400 calories a day! Oh, the horrors!

Of course, if she just drank water with her sandwich (not a bad idea) and decided not to get a bag of chips, then she would be just fine. But America doesn't stand for flavorless drinks and missing side dishes. In truth, the sandwich (including the mayo) would have been perfectly within reason. This point was largely ignored. The reporter's supposed intent was to prove that fast-food chains make it difficult for customers to accurately determine their caloric intake, and therefore stay healthy. Obviously, the real intent of the story was to cause shock and dissent among the masses, which I'm sure leads to increased ratings, but that's not really my point.

A supposed expert, a certain Thomas Frieden, spent the length of the report making a direct comparison between calories and health. "You might think that tuna salad, because it says it's salad, is healthier. But you might see it's many more calories than a roast beef sandwich. And you might prefer the roast beef sandwich, too. You were having the tuna salad because you thought it was healthy," Frieden explains.

I've got news for you, Frieden. While the salad may have more calories than the sandwich, it might still be more healthful. Of course, this all depends on how much mayo and other such ingredients were worked into the salad. The type of tuna used in tuna salad is little more than cat-food, and the only way to feed that to many Americans (and probably other nationalities) is to augment the taste with a little (or a lot of) fat. Still, the salad is likely to also contain greens (which most Americans could use much more of), olives (remember how good for you olive oil is supposed to be?) and perhaps tomatoes (love that lycopene). In contrast, the roast beef sandwich is going to contain some lovely saturated fat, much of which inherently contains trans-fats), some diabetes-inducing white wheat flour in the bun, and with any luck, some ever-so-tasty preservatives to keep the bread from getting stale on its trans-continental journey from factory to restaurant. But hey, at least the sesame seeds on top are good for you.

The point is, while there is a correlation between caloric intake and a person's health, it's not the only factor at work. I don't know of anyone (outside of TV) who is actually stupid enough to believe that a fast food burger is more healthful than a lush, green salad. Then why do people eat burgers instead of salads? Because the burger probably tastes good and the salad probably doesn't. Until America (and cooks in particular) realizes that there is as much art to preparing vegetables as there is to preparing meat, this problem will always exist. And while this problem exists, it doesn't matter how many restaurants put calories on their menus, people will still order the burger because the burger tastes good, and the salad is rabbit food.

What other factors are at going on here? I think it's common-knowledge nowadays that animal-based fats and protein are not nearly as good for you as plant-based fats and protein. There are a variety of reasons for this, my favorite being that trans-fats do not exist in plant-based fats without external intervention, whereas trans-fats (even in small amounts) are common in animal-based fats. Sugars also play an important role, as we all know that heavily-processed starches and sugars have been linked to things like Type II diabetes, largely because of the insulin spikes that they tend to cause. Nevermind the fact that excessive protein intake has also been shown to cause significant insulin spikes.

I could go on and on with a variety of other factors that I picked up from nutrition classes that I have taken, and personal research that I have done (I wonder if any CBS reporter has ever thought to do that, rather than just pretending to?). In the end, I'm just some guy with a blog that's mad about part of mainstream American making such an effort to delude the rest of mainstream America. If you're reading my blog, chances are you're not part of mainstream America, because that's not really who I generally find leaving comments. But if you're reading this, then hopefully I've inspired you to go out and do some research of your own. Don't bother with the crack-pots on 60 Minutes. Listen to somebody who's goal in life is to help you, not cause fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Nutella and Fig

See, this is what happens when the wife goes to Vegas for the weekend, leaving me at home with a DVR full of Iron Chef America episodes. I had a huge jar of Nutella calling to me, and I didn't know what to do with it. Sure, I could just eat it by the spoonful. Heaven knows I've done that enough times. But like I said, I'd been watching Iron Chef all weekend. It was time to apply the theme ingredient differently.

I grabbed a largish slice of sourdough bread and cut out asmany rounds as I could with a small pastry cutter. The magic number ended up being 5. Those were tossed under the broiler (okay, my little toaster oven set to broil) just long enough to get some decent browning going on. I pulled them and gave them a quick spread of Nutella. I think the rustic look was nice. I then topped each one with a very thin slice of fig.

Very quick, very simple. I think the whole thing came in at under five minutes. If I were to do it again, I would choose a different starch. The sourdough was okay, but something a little less sour would have been better. Puff pastry probably would have been ideal. Either way, it's not a bad idea for some kind of holiday party or something.

Monday, November 5, 2007

SYN/ACK in Canada

I'm back in Utah again, and I have some final words on last week's visit to Montreal.

I mentioned before that in Montreal, almost everybody greeted me in two languages. Thinking about it, this is kind of a verbal handshake. In walking up to the Canadian, it's obvious to them that my intent is to start a connection, using a verbal protocol. The Canadian, friendly person that he or she usually is, establishes to me that they have two different modes of communication, and they're inviting me to select a preference. Since I only know English, I reply with a standard English greeting of some sort (HELO). The Canadian now knows that I wish to communicate in that language, and they continue with it. It's all very interesting to me, from a technical standpoint.

My class went successfully. I took a peek at the student evals, and decided that the students apparently really did like the class, the instructor, and the facility. It's always a nice feeling. One student even gave me his email address and told me to let him know the next time I was in Montreal so that he could show me around the better parts of town. I hope to take him up on that soon (hint, hint, Dax).

I walked around the mall adjascent to the training center building on Thursday night. I was disappointed to find almost nothing but clothing stores and a food court. I went downstairs to the stores nearer the train station and found a wider variety of stores. At one point I ran into a chocolate store and bought some filled chocolates. Now, I've never been a big fan of French chocolate, especially the highly-overrated Valrhona, but it would seem that as far as chocolate confections are concerned, the French are on their game. Well, the French-Canadians at least. While the shells were disappointingly thick, the fillings were smooth and flavorful, and I ended up going back during lunch on Friday for a few more chocolates. If there were a chocolate store like that nearby, I would be a happy boy indeed.

Walking around the mall after work caused me to head back to the hotel a little later than usual, and I found throngs of people walking the streets. They say that there is safety in numbers, and from what I saw, the cars had a definite disadvantage. When it came time to cross the street, I found throngs of people crossing all at one time, and they scarcely seemed to care whether their light was actually green. They were usually good enough to actually wait for all of the cars to disappear first. I'm worried that I picked up a lot of bad habits while I was there. I'll have to be careful next time I'm walking in Salt Lake.

The crazy people in the hallway made their final appearance Thursday night. There was a definite difference between each of their visits. The first night, two cute, bubbly girls appeared that looked like they were on their way to or from a party. The second night, only one of them appeared, accompanied by a dour woman who was just doing her job. The cute girl with her didn't look like she was having such a great time. The third night the dour woman was replaced with a man who was just doing his job, and didn't really seem to mind. The cute girl with him seemed almost in pain. The final night there were no cute girls, and the older man and woman who did appear looked like they were just doing their job, but they did seema bit friendlier. When I took a chocolate from their basket, the woman asked, "just one?" I hadn't realized that I could have more than once. I took a handful. Man, those are good chocolates.

I was worried about getting back to the airport on Friday. The man at the training center helpfully volunteered to call a taxi agency for me and make sure that there would be a cab waiting for me downstairs that took American Express. We were at the Sun Life building, in front of which there is always a line of taxis. He told me to go down and wait at the front of the line, and that there would be a driver set apart from the rest who would know me by name. When I got downstairs, I saw the line of cabs, but nothing special about them. After a few minutes one pulled up in front of the others. I walked up and asked him if he was waiting for Joseph Hall. He looked at me with what seemed to be recognition, and then rushed me off to one of the cabs that had been waiting, telling me that that was the correct one. I asked that driver (just to be sure) if he took American Express, and he assured me in extremely broken English that of course he did. I had been wondering how the taxi company was going to coordinate its efforts, and I was beginning to be impressed by how they had done it. As we pulled away I saw a minivan taxi pull up, roll down his window and give me an extremely concerned look. That was when I realized that I had taken the wrong cab.

After a couple of blocks I asked the driver if they had told him where I was headed. He said something to the effect of, "no, where are we going?" I told him that I needed to get to the airport. He switched lanes erratically and made right turn. In an apparent attempt to make conversation he asked me where I was going. "Toronto? Some other place?" I told him that I was going to America, and suddenly felt a little silly, like I was an excited little schoolboy: "I'm going to America! It's my first time there and I'm so excited!" He made a friendly reply that I didn't understand in the least, and we drove on.

He was a scary driver, one that made Utah drivers seem extremely calm and patient in comparison. He looked for every opportunity to get ahead, whether or not it was a good idea. At one point as we sat at a red light in the third lane from the left, he kept edging forward, cautiously watching all of the other drivers. When the light turned green he stomped on the gas and screetched across two lanes of traffic to take a freeway on-ramp on the left.

We hit the beginning of Montreal rush hour and it was as brutal as my students said it was. Our car's brakes were sticky, so it was not possible to slow down without a series of jerks. The accelerator also seemed a bit sensitive, and speeding up was just as much fun. As we drove I noticed a two airport exits, seeming to refer to two different airports. I asked my driver which airport we were going to and he said Trudeau. My concern levels rising, I asked if the airport code for that was YUL. It became increasingly apparant that his grasp of English was almost as poor as my understanding of French. The best I could make out was that Montreal used to have two airports, now it only has one, and it's Trudeau.

As we drove I noticed the faire chart on the window. Under the hourly rates I noticed an exception to them: all trips to and from Trudeau-Montreal International Airport had a flat rate of $35 Canadian. Something about it made me feel better. We got to the airport and had a painful conversation about which airline I was taking, followed by another painful conversation on how I was going to pay him. We finally got all of that out of the way and I grabbed my bags and went inside to look for a ticketing agent.

The one that I found was abrupt and perhaps a little unfriendly as she told me that she could not help me until I had checked in at the electronic kiosk. Even using that ended up being an excercise in pain, as the intructions for scanning my passport were vague and ultimately inaccurate. I finally checked in and went back to ask the lady for some clarifications on the customs form. Finding the international security point was a pain, as the entrance was between airline check-in counters. I felt like I was using an employee-only entrance.

I was surprised to learn that I would be going through US customs before getting on the plane, rather than waiting until I was on American soil. I was also relieved, since I only had an hour layover in Minneapolis/St Paul. The customs agent sounded extremely American to my ears as he asked me if I was bringing anything back from Canada. I replied that I had some chocolate and he said, "is that the food that you're declaring?" He waved me through and I made my way to security.

The security checkpoint in Montreal is exactly the same as in America, with only subtle differences. There were still Canadian TSA agents yelling about what would be allowed and what wouldn't, but they were doing it in English and then French (which was backwards from what I expected). They wanted to make sure that we knew the rules about "one hundred mils" (American transation: 3.4oz), etc.

I went through what is now a practiced ritual of taking off my shoes, removing my notebook and my external DVD burner from my bags and so on. I went through the metal detector and then got all but one of my bags. Apparently there was a problem with my larger carry-on bag, but the inspector for my line was busy with a woman who thought it appropriate to bring foil-wrapped plastic containers full of food through security ("It's from my grandmother, eh? You want me to unwrap it? Why?") Yes, non-business travellers are just as annoying in Canada as they are stateside.

With her gone, they finally moved my bag out from the X-ray where it was handled by an older gentleman who was friendly, and seemed to enjoy his job enough that he actually hummed as he put my luggage through several tests. As he opened up my bag some chocolate fell out and he smiled at it. "Chocolate, huh?" He seemed pretty unconcerned about me as he checked through my bag thoroughly enough to make American TSA agents look like a group of blindfolded idiots, but with a friendliness to make those same uptight agents look like they were working for the KGB, doing what is best for "Mother America". It was one of very few times that I was actually impressed with a TSA agent.

As I left security, I trailed a pilot who could not walk more than 10 feet without his wheeled luggage causing him problems. From what I could tell, he just didn't know how to use wheeled luggage. I hoped he wasn't my pilot. I walked around him and made my way to my gate. We boarded a Canadair CJ900, which had a very friendly interior. Everything was white, except for the gray chairs. It seemed bright and almost futuristic, just from the whites and the grays alone. Why don't they do this on all airplanes? I felt like I was on the space shuttle, not a cramped bus in south-east L.A.

I had a window seat, and was soon joined by some guy in the aisle seat who was apparently only interested in sleeping. He woke just in time for his drink order, "Sierra Mist or Sprite". He took a sip, put his cup down, and promptly went back to sleep. An hour or so later I had to wake him up so that I could get out to the lavatory, and he seemed extremely disoriented for a moment. He woke up again for the landing, and then spent an eternity talking on his cell phone while we waited to deplane.

And we had quite a wait, too. In fact, we waited almost 20 minutes for somebody to make their way to our gate to drive the skybridge to the plane. Yay for Northwest Airlines! Fortunately we were 15 minutes early anyway, so it didn't really cause any problems with people trying to make their connections. Unfortunately, I still didn't have nearly as much time as I would have liked. The Minneapolis airport is like an extention of the Mall of America, and is not a bad place to be stuck for an extended layover. I did have enough time to stop by the Wolfgang Puck Express and get a pretty decent pizza, and scoff at the McDonalds on the way to and from it.

The flight into Salt Lake was refreshingly empty, and the flight attendants were surprisingly friendly. I don't get to fly on many Airbus jets, and this one was spacious and almost comfortable. In fact, most of my flights both on Boeing and non-Boeing jets make me dislike Boeing just that much more.

I'm back home now for a while, and then I think I'm off to New Jersey. It'll be interesting to see what early winter is like on the turnpike.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Next Iron Chef

I've been watching The Next Iron Chef almost religiously. It's the one show that I make an effort to watch on the old TiVo on the weekends between classes. For those of you who haven't been watching it, it's kind of like The Next Food Network Star or Top Chef, with one big difference: these people are professionals. With the possible exception of Gavin Kaysen, who consistently failed to impress me, this show has featured nothing but chefs who are at the top of their game.

Unlike the half season of Top Chef that I subjected myself to before giving up on it, the challengers on The Next Iron Chef are like brothers and sisters in the kitchen. The had a mutual respect for each other, and in fact had to be forced in one episode to stab each other in the back, which I found to be the only ordeal that they truly failed in.

From the very first episode, it was clear that every single chef competing looked up to John Besh, not just as the man to beat, but as the man whom everyone else could truly only aspire to. As time went on, Besh consistently proved himself in challenge after challenge. If ever he hit speed bumps with the judges, it was generally related to technicalities. Lobster served with watermelon consomme? Truly, his only mistake was calling it consomme instead of soup.

As the battles passed, it also became clear that there was another truly talented chef to content with: Michael Symon. For those who saw him cook for Anthony Bourdain and Marky Ramone in Cleveland, this comes as no surprise. From foie gras bratwurst on No Reservations to his lobster hot dogs on The Next Iron Chef, Chef Symon has a knack for taking something seemingly pedestrian and elevating it to a truly inspired level.

It does not surprise me that the final two contestants are Besh and Symon. In a week we'll see them duke it out in a traditional Iron Chef-style battle. Both have extremely important characteristics that would greatly benefit the Food Network, both on and off of Iron Chef. Besh obviously is technically superior, while Symon has a more camera-friendly face and personality. But each is close enough in both areas that regardless of which winner is chosen, I won't be surprised or disappointed.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Two Roads Diverged...

...and I, I have tried to take both.

I found it interesting that last week, I stumbled upon two very interesting blogs, literally within hours of each other. The first was Chadzilla, who's tagline reads, "The future of gastronomy belongs to chemistry." (Brillat Savarin, 1825). I found a link to this from one of my favorite magazines/blogs, Make, when they posted a link to an article about how to make vodka pills. As I browsed through the site, I discovered that the author is a man just like me: a cook who loves science. The biggest difference is that he actually works in a professional kitchen for a living. As I browsed through his site, I found article after article on things like sous vide, a technique that I have recently become fascinated with but have been unable to obtain the resources to study it. I knew that I was about to become a frequent reader.

The second was Bash Cures Cancer. I stumbled upon this when I found an article in Google about 10 Linux commands you've never used. I'm happy to say that I already use five of them on a regular basis, and there are three more than I have used variants of frequently. As I browsed through this blog, I discovered that the author is a man just like me: a Linux geek who loves to teach the world how cool Linux is, and how to use it. The biggest difference is that I actually teach in professional training centers for a living. As I browsed through his site, I found article after article on things like elegant scripting techniques, a subject which I have always been fascinated with, even though I can always use more help with it. I knew that I was about to become a frequent reader.

You know what amuses me about all of this? I have a degree in Culinary Arts, but I've never been to college for anything computer related. I rarely cook at home these days, because I'm usually on the road teaching a Linux class. When I know that I'm going to be teaching a class the following week using a book that I haven't used for a while (if ever), I bring a copy with me to read on the plane and in my hotel room. I'll be at home for the next three weeks, so this week I brought with me the ServSafe study guide to read in my hotel room and on the plane (my certification expires in December and I need to renew it).

They say that no man can serve two masters, and that's certainly true. At least, not at the same time. So when I'm not teaching in the classroom, I'm taking what time I can to play in the kitchen. A day does not go by when I'm not thinking about the next ingredient or recipe I plan to play with (I have a pound of bacon waiting for me at home, and it was on my mind all day during class). Right now the two roads are close enough that I've still been able to keep a foot in each one, except of course for dodging the occassional obstacle. I guess I'm just hoping the roads don't diverge anymore than this anytime soon.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

More Observations on Canada

More observations on Canada:

* My student from Montreal feels as much like he's in a foreign country as I do. He doesn't speak the language, everyone dresses differently than he's used to, even the traffic is different than he's used to.
* This student mentioned today that everyone seems to have iPods, and everyone seems to smoke. I guess it is just a Montreal thing.
* Canadians seem to love Easter candy. Just this morning I walked by a place with a sign that said "peep show". I can only assume that they deal in stop-motion films involving marshmallow peeps. I'm considering bringing my camera by tomorrow to get some pictures for the blog. Nothing says "family friendly" like Easter candy, right?

I also noticed an argument going on in my comments for a different post (which shall remain nameless). It's interesting that those people bring it up, because I had a very similar (though friendlier) conversation with one of my French-speaking students.

I mentioned to her that I had tried to learn some French, but I really didn't know very much. She told me that it's a harder language to learn than English. She told me, "we're French, and we had a hard time learning it!" She also told me that French in Canada is very different than French in France. She told me that when Canadians go to France, they can understand what the French are saying, but the French can't understand what the Canadians are saying. All of the other French-speaking students nodded their heads knowingly as she spoke.

I made the following comparison: in America we have a type of vehicle that we call a semi, or a deisel. In England they call it a lorry. In Australia they call it a road train. She responded by telling me that in Canada, a lot of words in French have been replaced altogether with their English counterpart. This went to further her argument that French is a very different language in Canada than it is in France, just as English is a very different language in America than it is in England.

I actually had time during lunch again, so I went down to Dunn's Pub, which was recommended by one of my students. She told me that if I liked smoked meat or if I liked cheesecake, I needed to go. As it turns out, their "Smoked Meat Super Sandwich" (pastrami with mustard on rye) was actually the best pastrami sandwich that I've ever had. Anywhere. When I ordered it, the waitress asked how I wanted the meat. I was a little confused, since I didn't think that rare, medium, well or any combination applied to smoked meats. Apparently she meant, did I want more lean meat or more fat? She also confided to me that the leaner the meat, the more crumbly it was. I told her to shoot for the middle, and she told me that that was the best way to have it. I still have no reason not to believe her.

The sandwich came with fries, which were nothing short of horrible. It also came with coleslaw which I didn't touch, because cabbage is high on my list of "least favorite foods in the world". It came with a pickle as well, which I didn't touch because it was stuck in the cabbage. I also ordered a slice of strawberry cheesecake, which was indeed one of the best cheesecakes I've ever had. It was a plain cheesecake with strawberry topping on top, and about twice as big as any normal person could eat. I didn't finish mine, but not for lack of trying.

Much to Ali's chagrin, I'm staying at the hotel again tonight, rather than walking around the town. I'm still pretty worn out. I've already ordered room service, and I'm making my way through a "corn fed chicken" as I type. The menu said it came with vegetables and French fries, but instead it has pasta and some kind of baked savory custard which isn't very good. The chicken itself is killer though. I also have high hopes for the chocolate mousse. Apparently the restaurants downstairs no longer offer cheesecake, which is probably better for my cholesterol levels anyway.

We'll see what tomorrow brings. I still have a few Canadian dollars left, so maybe I'll hit the underground mall again during lunch.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Crazy People in the Hallway

Last night I had a little bit of a surprise, involving crazy people in my hallway. But I'm already getting ahead of myself.

Monday was interesting. The training center is only about a ten minute walk from the hotel. I made a few observations on the way:

* Lines painted in the middle of the road seem to be more of a suggestion than anything. This is probably because none of the lanes seem (to me at least) wide enough for a single vehicle. And yet, despite this lack of space, everyone drives really, really fast.
* Crosswalks also seem to be little more than a suggestion. Jaywalking is rampant here.
* Cars don't like waiting for pedestrians. I saw a car make a turn in a space between two pedestrians that looked just large enough for the car. Both the car and the pedestrians seemed oblivious to each other.
* Does everybody in Montreal own an i-Pod? One would think so.
* Most everyone seemed to be really cold Monday morning. They looked as if they wished they had worn warmer jackets. I didn't bother zipping up my jacket and I was plenty warm. Are Canadians (in Montreal at least) really less used to the cold than Utahns?
* Montreal looks like a mix between Europe and America. It's pretty.
* I don't think you're allowed Canadian citizenship unless you smoke. Those with cigarettes outnumbered those without, by a fair margin.

The building that the training center is in is pretty big. The training company is on the 21st floor. I'm glad I don't have to look out any windows. I don't handle heights well. The guy working there greeted me bilingually, like everybody else. They have coffee, tea, and most importantly, donuts. I was pretty hungry. Four out of five of my students speak French. When then fifth one greeted me, I remarked that he didn't have a French accent. He replied, "no, I'm from Toronto."

I went to lunch with the English-speaking student and one of the French ones. The French guy took us to a shopping center across the street, which had a food court. The first restaurant I saw was a Dunkin' Donuts. Before long I also saw a McDonalds and a Subway. The only place that seemed to take credit cards was the Subway. I eventually decided upon a Greek place because they told me they would take debit cards.

I'm pretty unhappy with myself for deciding to play it safe while in a foreign country. On the other hand, my idea of playing it safe is a gyro. The menu was entirely in French, but they spoke English and understood "number three, with a Mountain Dew". They had a choice between poulet and beouf, and I fortunately remembered enough culinary French to know that meant chicken and beef (respectively), and to be dismayed that they didn't offer agneau (lamb), which is in my opinion the only meat appropriate for gyros. They also asked me a question that I've never been asked before when buying a gyro: "hot or mild sauce?" I went with mild, hoping that it would be tziki. It wasn't. But it was still pretty good. I then found out that they only take Canadian debit cards. Fortunately, they also took American cash, if only because that's all I had.

My student from Toronto ordered Japonais (Japanese) food, and my French student ordered McDonalds. I tried to ignore it. My gyro came with something that was halfway between a French fry and a potato wedge. They had something on them that tasted like malt vinegar. I'm hooked. We went downstairs, to find an ATM so that I could get some Canadian cash. Part of the shopping center is underground, and is connected to a large train station. My French student thought, correctly, that an ATM was sure to be found there. As I waited in line, a woman at the ATM kept giving me worried looks, as if I was going to mug her the second she turned her back, with hundreds of people in the immediate vicinity. I was wondering how Canadians would take to my biker jacket. I guess now I know.

When class was over, I walked back to my hotel without incident. I was pretty worn out, so I ordered room service. My strategy was this: I'm not paying for the food, so I might as well order something adventurous and something safe. I went with a duck terrine, French onion soup and a club sandwich. I've never had a a terrine that I've actually liked, though the very few that I've made myself got rave reviews from those who tasted them. Those people probably would have liked the duck terrine. I hated it. The onion soup was really good, and there was a lot of it. I ate so much of it, I couldn't finish the club sandwich. That's just as well, because it was one of the worst club sandwiches I'd ever had. Not enough bacon, and the turkey was dry and flavorless. There were too many fries, and I barely touched any of them. I couldn't help but notice that the fries came with mayonnaise. I didn't touch it. I also ordered a bottle of water, and they only had glass, litre-sized bottles in stock, imported from France. Fortunately, it wasn't sparkling.

Not long after I finished dinner, there was a knock at my door. Before I could make it to the door, it opened and two bubbly, friendly girls burst in with a basket full of chocolates, wanting to know if I wanted any. I'm really glad I was still dressed. I was still stunned from their entrance, and thought they were selling them. I politely declined and they offered me a bottle of water, ephasizing that it was compliments of the hotel. They also gave me a postcard and left me standing there, just a little confused. The postcard was the next day's weather forecast. I saved the water for class the next day. Teaching without a bottle of water or some other drink handy is painful.

The next day, I opted for room service again. I had skipped breakfast and lunch (other than training center donuts) and I was hungry. I ordered smoked salmon, a burger and a slice of cheesecake. The man who took my order did not have a French Canadian accent. Oh, no. His accent was much more French than that. He informed me that they were out of cheesecake and offered a chocolate cake instead.

The smoked salmon was good. It came with the same vile salad that the duck terrine had come with, which I avoided altogether. The burger was decent. I was surprised to find that it came with melted gruyere on it. The cake was disappointing. It had a slice of orange on top, and a wedge of pineapple. It also had two pieces of musk melon and two balls of honeydew melon. None of the fruit, save for the orange, complimented the chocolate cake, which was grainy and crumbly. I hope they have cheesecake tomorrow. Even if I get dinner somewhere else, I want to order the cheesecake, just to see how good it is.

The crazy people came back, knocking on the door and then opening it before I could get to it. Remembering their entrance the day before, I had made sure to wait until after they were gone before getting ready for bed. I took a chocolate this time, and another bottle of water. The chocolate, which was mass-manufactured, put the chocolate cake to shame. The girls were less bubbly, and this time I spied a clipboard that one of them checked off as they walked away. I feel like a statistic now.

I also feel pretty tired. I'm going to work on my lesson plans for tomorrow, and go to bed.