There are a several loaded words where people often can't agree on precise definitions. I was in a group where we flagged such words and carefully looked over our publications to make sure we weren't abusing them. Words like community, data and innovation.
One of the radioactive red flag words was breakthrough...
On any given day press releases from Universities and companies speak of "breakthrough" research and products, but if you re-visit them a few years (sometimes months) later, they seem to have vanished. DARPA has an effective definition - they generally avoid the term (at least internally), but speak of improvements to current technologies that are at least a factor of ten better in at least one important parameter. A technology that cut the cost of an electric car battery from $20,000 to $2,000 would be a breakthrough. Something that cut it in half, while desirable, would not.
Real breakthroughs tend to come out of surprising areas - there is a lot of connecting the dots going on that is often under the radar of large scale focused work. This can be, but rarely is, cultivated in business and the process leads to a lot of failures.
Rather than dwelling on examples and postmortems it is more fun to think about ideas that didn't make it. They often fail because someone wasn't connecting enough dots - they had missed some crucial bit of information.
Negligible Tales, by Ambrose Bierce
The Failure of Hope & Wandel
From Mr. Jabez Hope, in Chicago, to Mr. Pike Wandel, of New Orleans, December 2, 1877.
I will not bore you, my dear fellow, with a narrative of my journey from New Orleans to this polar region. It is cold in Chicago, believe me, and the Southron who comes here, as I did, without a relay of noses and ears will have reason to regret his mistaken economy in arranging his outfit.
To business. Lake Michigan is frozen stiff. Fancy, O child of a torrid clime, a sheet of anybody’s ice, three hundred miles long, forty broad, and six feet thick! It sounds like a lie, Pikey dear, but your partner in the firm of Hope & Wandel, Wholesale Boots and Shoes, New Orleans, is never known to fib. My plan is to collar that ice. Wind up the present business and send on the money at once. I’ll put up a warehouse as big as the Capitol at Washington, store it full and ship to your orders as the Southern market may require. I can send it in planks for skating floors, in statuettes for the mantel, in shavings for juleps, or in solution for ice cream and general purposes. It is a big thing!
I inclose a thin slip as a sample. Did you ever see such charming ice?
From Mr. Pike Wandel, of New Orleans, to Mr. Jabez Hope, in Chicago, December 24, 1877.
Your letter was so abominably defaced by blotting and blurring that it was entirely illegible. It must have come all the way by water. By the aid of chemicals and photography, however, I have made it out. But you forgot to inclose the sample of ice.
I have sold off everything (at an alarming sacrifice, I am sorry to say) and inclose draft for net amount. Shall begin to spar for orders at once. I trust everything to you — but, I say, has anybody tried to grow ice in this vicinity? There is Lake Ponchartrain, you know.
From Mr. Jabez Hope, in Chicago, to Mr. Pike Wandel, of New Orleans, February 27, 1878.
Wannie dear, it would do you good to see our new warehouse for the ice. Though made of boards, and run up rather hastily, it is as pretty as a picture, and cost a deal of money, though I pay no ground rent. It is about as big as the Capitol at Washington. Do you think it ought to have a steeple? I have it nearly filled — fifty men cutting and storing, day and night — awful cold work! By the way, the ice, which when I wrote you last was ten feet thick, is now thinner. But don’t you worry; there is plenty.
Our warehouse is eight or ten miles out of town, so I am not much bothered by visitors, which is a relief. Such a giggling, sniggering lot you never saw!
It seems almost too absurdly incredible, Wannie, but do you know I believe this ice of ours gains in coldness as the warm weather comes on! I do, indeed, and you may mention the fact in the advertisements.
From Mr. Pike Wandel, of New Orleans, to Mr. Jabez Hope, in Chicago, March 7, 1878.
All goes well. I get hundreds of orders. We shall do a roaring trade as “The New Orleans and Chicago Semperfrigid Ice Company.” But you have not told me whether the ice is fresh or salt. If it is fresh it won’t do for cooking, and if it is salt it will spoil the mint juleps.
Is it as cold in the middle as the outside cuts are?
From Mr. Jebez Hope, from Chicago, to Mr. Pike Wandel, of New Orleans, April 3, 1878.
Navigation on the Lakes is now open, and ships are thick as ducks. I’m afloat, en route for Buffalo, with the assets of the New Orleans and Chicago Semperfrigid Ice Company in my vest pocket. We are busted out, my poor Pikey — we are to fortune and to fame unknown. Arrange a meeting of the creditors and don’t attend.
Last night a schooner from Milwaukee was smashed into match-wood on an enormous mass of floating ice — the first berg ever seen in these waters. It is described by the survivors as being about as big as the Capital at Washington. One-half of that iceberg belongs to you, Pikey.
The melancholy fact is, I built our warehouse on an unfavorable site, about a mile out from the shore (on the ice, you understand), and when the thaw came — O my God, Wannie, it was the saddest thing you ever saw in all your life! You will be so glad to know I was not in it at the time.
What a ridiculous question you ask me. My poor partner, you don’t seem to know very much about the ice business.
In 1942 Lord Mountbatten convinced Winston Churchill of the merits of pykrete - a mixture of ice and wood pulp created by the eccentric English boffin Geoffrey Pyke. The notion was to build an enormous aircraft carrier at least 2,000 feet long and 300 feet wide that could provide an airbase in the North Atlantic The problem was that it required an enormous amount of wood and, of course, it would eventually melt.
... but the Habakkuk project was given a nod ...
£5000 was provided for a small test which took place on Patricia Lake in Jasper in the Canadian Rockies. I first encountered it listening to an old timer in a tea house near the lake when I was hiking there years ago...
When your back is against the wall you are willing to try almost anything..
The name is from a book in the old testament and something that puzzles me. I was told that it is from a verse in the book - something this source agrees with.
“Behold ye among the heathen, and regard and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told to you.” Hab. 1:5
But I like something a biblical scholar told me when I asked him for a bit of background ... Habakkuk was the only prophet who questions god's wisdom when he saw a great injustice and asked why god wasn't doing anything about it. Somehow I can imagine that squaring with the English sense of humor a bit better.
There are real breakthroughs out there - but those who find them are frequently not those who complete the innovation - finally taking them to a point where they are realized and successfully used. So many pitfalls, but it is often how progress is made.
Before moving on to the recipe section I'll just note that I find much of the focus of current technology and computation a bit boring. There is some very clever work going on, but mostly it isn't focused on the major challenges we have as a people. It would be refreshing to see more serious attacks on the (many) real challenges that face us.
Rather than starting with a recipe I'll give a few recommendations for cooking essentials as a few people have asked for comments. I like to cook and bake and tend towards gadgets, but I've learned that most of the items go unused. It is possible to do quite a bit with very little. So with that here are a few...
° Proper oven and refrigerator thermometers.
Our current oven is much colder than its temperature setting. It is good practice to get an oven thermometer and calibrate your oven. For me that means a calibration chart I have next to the oven. A good oven thermometer costs less than $10 - get one with a big dial so you can easily read it. I also test mine in boiling water and by noting the melting point of sugar.
Ideally you might have an oven that, in addition to temperature, regulates humidity. These are common in professional kitchens, but are way too spendy for me. I wish I had one though - they can make a big difference.
The refrigerator has very different temperatures throughout and I baffle the air flow to create zones I trust. I also know the regions that get a bit too cold for many items. I have three - two in the 'fridge and one in the freezer. They were under $10 each and make a difference.
° A nice chef's knife and a good paring knife
I wish I would have started with a good knife and had known you don't need speciality knives. You don't have to spend a huge amount of money (but you can). I buy mine at Korin in NYC - they have an incredible selection of Japanese knives and related kit and give excellent advice. Get a good sharpening stone or two and learn how to use them unless you can have a professional regularly sharpen yours. I like Minsono knives with a Western edge, but there are many excellent brands. Minsonos are a nice compromise in quality and price and have a nice feel in my hand - I'm sure I'll be using the same knives ten years from now. Western edges are much easier to sharpen than Japanese edges - so go that way if you sharpen your own.
Two two chef's knifes - one with a 240mm blade, the other 170mm - and a little 120mm pairing knife are all I need.
° Cooking thermometers.
I have a fast reacting probe thermometer as well as an infrared thermometer.
I can't tell you how useful the IR thermometer is in and out of the kitchen. I've been using a RayTech for nearly a decade and have given several of them as gifts.
° A good kitchen scale
These are fundamentally important and every kitchen needs one as volume measurements don't make sense for many ingredients (flour for example). The $25 Eat Smart is great for general use. Mine reads to one gram and is reasonably accurate and repeatable. A gram accuracy is all you need unless you are doing speciality work with spices or food additives. For spice work I bought a scale that reads to 0.01 grams, but I rarely use it.
The $25 Eat Smart is great for general use.
Also if you are counting calories you need a kitchen scale.
° proper height working surfaces
If you do a lot of work with food you might find yourself with a sore back. It turns out the 36" counter height in most kitchens is a by-product of post WWII standardization that came with the mass production of cabinets. It reflects the 5'4 height of the average woman at the time (which, it turns out, hasn't changed in the US since). If you are a bit taller, try going for a 1" or 2" thick cutting board. If you are more than about 5'10 you might consider an even more raised surface.
I'm 6'1 - not terribly tall, but enough to cause serious back pain when I'm working at my cutting board for more than about 30 minutes at a time. My friend Colleen is about 6'7 and has a larger problem.
The solution for both of us was a custom raised cutting board. Mine adds about six inches and her's nearly a foot. You don't lose a lot of counter space as you can store things under them. I had AWP make both of them in hard maple and strongly recommend the company.
If you are much shorter than about 5'1 it makes sense to stand on something or AWP will make a custom height roll around work surface. I know a serious cook who is about 5'1 who wears Dansko professional shoes which add a couple of inches - they are comfortable and work perfectly. In either case the tight grained hardwoods are quite hygienic and studies show probably cleaned hardwood is as safe as other cutting surfaces. Plus the are very beautiful.
Of course if you are building or remodeling a kitchen, the countertop can be anything you like. And with remodeling you can also consider kitchen work-flow ... something I've never been able to do.
° a high quality blender
I don't have one as I can't justify the high price, but I've used them in other kitchens - Vitamix blenders are wonderful if you need to blend anything. If you make soups you probably want an immersion blender (also called stick blenders). Unless you do it every day something like this model will be just fine.
° a good pressure cooker
They are completely underrated and I recommend one to save time and cut energy use. You have to learn how to use them, but once you get the hang of one, you won't turn back. There seems to be wide agreement that the Kuhn Rikon models are superior. Stay away from the electrics.
° specialized kit
As you specialize you'll probably find a few really great tools that are great helps and that also make no sense to the normal cook or baker. I like to make ice cream and have instrumented my ice cream maker - if you are handy with electronics, instrumentation is a nice way to combine hobbies and perhaps get a bit more insight into cooking. One of these days I would like to get into low temperature cooking - often, but improperly, called sous vide. Something I can't justify due to space and money, but "one of these days"...
But this is getting out there. Pay attention to the first four items on the list (possibly five) and you can be very happy.