Cooking 100 stir-frys


“Oh, you want to learn to cook? That sounds like a great idea!  You’ll be able to make your own meals instead of having to rely on other people or going to restaurants. You can cook from fresh ingredients, bond with other cooks, make your spouse love you, and understand what all those people on TV are talking about.  It’s really easy, and we want to encourage everyone to cook because we are a food-based society, and everyone should have basic food literacy. ”

“How do I get started?”

“Oh, that’s easy. Just pick a recipe you want to make, and make it.”

“But what if I don’t know all the recipes I can make?”

“They’re not hard to choose from! Just pick one…Asian, Mexican, comfort food, soup, pasta…anything.”

“Ok. I want to make chicken tikka masala!”

“That’s too hard for a beginning cook. Let’s work on making stir fry first. Nice and easy.”

“Ok, I’m ready to stir fry!  But which recipe do I use? There are a hundred websites and a hundred ratings?”

“Just Google around until you find something you like. Go on StockpotOverflow and see who else has cooked it and what they have to say about it.”

“Ok. There’s a guy who says he made stir fry but he didn’t season his pot.  Do I need to season my pot?”

“Yes. I forgot to tell you. You need a wok and you need to season it before you make stir fry.”

“What’s a wok?”

“Oh, that’s easy. It’s like a special pot.”

“Oh ok. So I need a wok, and I need to season it. Ok, let me buy that. And I need groceries.”

“Yeah, but don’t get too carried away. Before you go buy groceries, you need to understand the history of farming in the United States. Let’s start by talking about how corn grows. First, it’s planted. Then, it goes through something known as a dormant stage-”

“Wait, what does corn have to do with stir fry?”

“You want to put baby corn in your stir fry, right?”

“Yeah, that looks delicious.Let’s go get some at the supermarket?”

“You can’t. They only sell it at the Korean grocery store down the street. They don’t sell it in regular supermarkets.”

“Ok, so I need to go to two supermarkets?”

“That’s right, and you need the special wok.”

“Ok. That’s it, right?”

“Oh. I forgot. You usually eat stir fry with chopsticks, so you’ll need to buy those. You can usually buy them at the Asian store, but if not, we’ll need to make a stop at Crate and Barrel.”

“Can’t I just buy them at the dollar store? I’ve seen them there before.”

“Yes, but noone uses the ones at Crate and Barrel. You’ll understand why once you learn more about the history of chopsticks and the materials they’re made out of.”

“I just want to cook!”

“Be patient. First, you need to learn a little about different cooking methods.”

“No, I just want to cook!”

“Ok, let’s go to the store.”


“Ok, now that we’re back from the store, let’s look at all of the ingredients we bought and cut them up.”

“Can’t I just cook them?”

“No, first you need to wash them, cut them, and make sure you measure out enough of everything. Then, go ahead, throw them in the wok.”

“I’m cooking now!”

“No you’re not. Look, the temperature isn’t on. You should have pre-heated the wok.”

“How was I supposed to know that??!!”

“Once you become a good enough cook, you’ll know. Ok, the wok is sizzling, go ahead and throw those veggies in.”

“Starting to smell good! But what about the rice??”

“You didn’t make any rice yet? It’s right in the recipe.”

“Oh, I didn’t know I was supposed to. This one girl on StockpotOverflow said that she usually made the rice later.”

“She’s not right.”

“How am I supposed to know that???”

“You will after you make 100 stir frys….watch your wok! It’s burning! Here, let me take over.”

“How am I supposed to learn how to cook if you do it for me and don’t explain everything?”

“100 stir-frys. Then you’ll know.”


“Here, your stir fry is done…DONT’ FORGET TO TURN OFF THE STOVE!”

“It tastes…like oil and grease. And a little of my blood.”

“The first ones always do.”


Based on my experiences of learning Python, Unix, Hadoop,  AWS,  JSON, and Git over the past six months.

How to not be unemployed in a recession

We interrupt this blog for a SERIOUSBUSINESS post on economics.

I’ve been on Google+ for about two weeks now, and I’m really hoping everyone switches over from Facebook, if only because you can get quality conversations like this (and also for the animated GIFs)


I came across the piece yesterday, talking about the recession and how there’s an employment bubble.  The author writes,

For people who spend most of their days within a few blocks of tech start-up epicenters such as South Park in San Francisco, University Avenue in Palo Alto or the Flatiron district in New York, last week’s jobs report must have created some cognitive dissonance. After all, we’re in aboom/bubble right? It’s really hard to hire good people isn’t it?

And I think, aside from that post and one last week by Megan McArdle, I haven’t seen too many mainstream media outlets discuss the fact that the recession is not affecting everyone equally.

Since Mr. B and I lived in DC for most of the severity of the recession, and since, thanks to our parents, we were able to afford to go to college and we picked majors that would guarantee us stable jobs, we never experienced the recession’s effects.

In fact, Mr. B was able to find four jobs from 2007-today, and I’ve been able to switch jobs once to move to Philadelphia, which is a much worse job market than DC.  All of our family (knock on wood) that wants to be is employed and even though three of my immediate family members were laid off in the past two years, they were able to find jobs several months later.  I have one family member that switched jobs just last week.

The key point, though, is that all of us majored in somewhat technical fields, or if we didn’t go to college in the United States, trained here for them.  Here is the range of my family’s professions: computer programmer, power tools and electrical repair, computer programmer, civil engineer, computer programmer, business/economic consultant, computer programmer, QA analyst, computer programmer, medical office.

What’s my point? The recession is affecting mostly those whose job skills are no longer needed in the economy.  The manufacturers.  The print journalists. The artists whose skills are no longer necessary as businesses try to streamline costs.  And also those located in cities that don’t have big employment opportunities. Unless you drive a Russian ambulance.

And, as Megan writes, the recession is hard and unemployment is excruciating:

I was unemployed for basically two years between the time I graduated from business school in 2001, and the time I accepted a job with The Economist in 2003.  I was much luckier than most people in that situation, both because my parents let me stay in their spare bedroom, and because I was working during much of that time–freelancing, flirting with a start up, doing some tech consulting, and of course, working in a trailer at Ground Zero.  But none of these were permanent, and at the time, it wasn’t clear that any of them were going to turn into something.  I felt the isolation and the desperate fear of everyone who doesn’t have a “real job”, the people who don’t know how they’re going to earn enough over the next forty years to keep body and soul together.  I experienced real despair for the first time in my life.  And it changed me, permanently.

So, what?

I’m not trying to make this an easy solution, because it’s not. If you’re older and at the point in your career, where learning technical skills would be harder than not, there’s no easy solution.   But I think many more people, at least those my age,  could stave off unemployment if they:

A) Picked useful college majors (philosophy or art history is a tough sell for marketing jobs unless you went to an Ivy)
B) Continued picking up technical skills that translate (for instance, a summer project before grad school that I’m working on is learning Thesis for WordPress, along with PHP and CSS,  so my site can finally look decent in every browser since Netscape 000.1 .  I’m getting there with my front page and soon this blog will receive a minor facelift, too. )
C) Watching industries to see what’s going to be popular in the next 5-10 years (data analysis, anything in healthcare, education, and, of course, Teh Webz.)
D) Craft your resume to segue into one of those fields.  Were you an underwater basketweaver in your internship?  You worked in a fast-paced industry of textiles, multitasking between weaving baskets and learning how to breathe, and were able to complete X baskets on time and on budget. So far, I’ve helped at least four people change around their resumes to look more marketable, and I think, to date, three of them have gotten at least first interviews and one ended up changing his/her job.

So, I guess the major point is to constantly be on the lookout, to adapt, to read a lot, and to follow trends closely.  There’s no easy cure for the economy, but there are definitely ways to make yourself immune to at least some of its effects.

A rolling stone gathers no moss, and someone that’s always hustling will usually find a job. Unless you’re driving a Russian ambulance. Then you’re set for life.




Giving to Charity

Akhila (whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in person before) and I recently had a discussion on Twitter about charity.  On Friday, I tweeted a link which made me feel guilty and want to give more money to charity, and then another link which made me feel guilty for feeling guilty.  So, I wondered,

Whoops. Sorry, that one was about the hawk cam.

I wondered about the effectiveness of giving to charity, and about the second article which discouraged it:

And Akhila then picked it up and said she disagreed with the whole premise of Altucher’s piece, because:

Our discussion centered on two viewpoints: Mine, that I kind of agree with Altucher because it’s impossible to monitor charity behavior and Akhila’s in that she believes in people’s inherent ability to research and choose charities correctly.

I think this discussion could have easily veered into one about the benefits of electoral college versus true democracy, but another argument that came out of it was whether it matters why people give to charity.

Being a cynical student of economics, I argued that it doesn’t matter. Whether I give money to Kiva because I want you to know that I give money to Kiva, or whether I give money because I want to help people (specifically, women in countries where entrepreneurial opportunities for women are rare,) I’ll still give, right?

However,  Akhila argued that we need to know we’re doing good in order to donate correctly and effect positive change:

I don’t have a correct answer to account for all of human nature, but I think our disagreement stems from two different viewpoints: I don’t trust people.  I think we’re inherently lazy, self-motivated, and stupid, so much so that we’ll donate to anything as long as it looks cool; i.e. Red Cross, and not examine where the money is going.  It takes forever to research charities, even with organizations like Charity Navigator and GiveWell , so how do you know whether the money you’re sending to send little girls to school in Pakistan is really going to some asshole, or is sitting, doing nothing?  How do I even know my Kiva donations are going to the right place?

The second part of it is that I believe people donate at least 50% to give themselves a huge ego boost. I know I do.  I do know people that are selfless and give their time for nothing more than to give time.  But I’m not going to pretend that giving to Kiva doesn’t give me the feel-goods, or that I gave blood in Israel solely for that purpose and not to tell people that I did it, or that I want to volunteer with dog-related causes to make them feel good. Mainly it’s because I miss petting dogs.  What I don’t know is if this perception hurts us more than it helps.

But Akhila doesn’t feel that way.  And I’m glad. Because some of us have to be  optimistic and in the business of helping people. And some of us have to be in the business of pessimism watching hawks remotely.

Edited to add, speaking of Kiva, I thought this was funny:

Mrs. Bej and Bellydancing After the Saudi Arabian Embassy

Years ago (10th grade), I had a wonderful Honors World Cultures teacher, Mrs.Vera  Bej (pronounced Bey.)  She was from Soviet Czechoslovakia, and she blew my mind.

Raised in suburbia, secluded from any type of ethnic, religious, or racial minority, I felt on my own as a Russian Jew with mainly American friends. Adriano Celentano was my favorite singer,

Lagaan was my favorite movie, and my parents would have hour-long blab sessions with their friends about how Putin was going to be bad for Russia.  And I couldn’t talk about any of it with my friends because they thought I was weird enough already.  Why couldn’t I just listen to Blink-182 and talk about what was going on at the mall on Friday?

But Mrs. Bej opened my eyes to so many new and exciting things, and I always felt that she “got” me because she was from Eastern Europe, too.  And she was hard as hell.  Lots and lots of people failed her class because she handled the room the way a Soviet teacher would and didn’t fall back on crappy U.S. teaching methods.  We had to “internalize, then synthesize” everything, write 8-page-long papers, memorize all of the countries on the continent of Africa and read lots and lots of books.  Midterms and finals were a nightmare and I stayed up until 2 am studying for her exams which always included at least two essays.

I loved and excelled in World Cultures, but man, was it hard.  One of the hardest parts for me was when she divided the class and we had to take viewpoints opposing our own.  I was a Palestinian arguing for land rights.  Since I hadn’t been exposed to much bilateral discussion of  Israel at  home, it was insanely tough.

We had four divisions: Russia and Eastern Europe, The Middle East, China and Japan, and the Modern World. Among the things Mrs. Bej introduced me to that I still reference today were two of my summer reading books Guests of the Sheik (which we read before the United States invaded Iraq) and The Good Earth.

For our field trip in the spring, we went to Washington, D.C. and visited the Saudi Embassy, the Islamic Center of Washington, the Smithsonian Sackler Gallery, and the Hillwood Estate (which Mr. B and I actually went to last year again.)

I was in love.  I couldn’t believe there was so much going on in one city, and so many exotic things.  I’d never seen or thought about Muslims in my life before until we went to the Islamic Center and all the girls had to wear headscarves.  My classmate, Arthi, almost got into an argument with the mullah who answered her questions about why women had to wear headscarves.

The highlight of the trip was dinner at a Moroccan restaurant that night, Marrakesh.  I had never been to one and had my eyes open wide the whole time as I ate with my hands and sat on the floor.  At the end, the belly dancer came out and Mrs. Bej danced right along with her and our class clapped and she laughed.   It is probably the only field trip I still remember from high school or middle school.

What caused me to remember this?  This recent article about the Saudi Arabian Embassy and Saudi Arabia’s recent relationship with Washington, which, it seems has cooled down quite a bit

The Saudi Embassy is covered in snow, and U.S. Foreign Service officers on their lunch breaks in Foggy Bottom skid by and giggle. Washington is notoriously incapable of digging itself out from under, and almost a year into the Obama administration, it seems the Saudis are having the same problem.

The Saudi-American relationship has traditionally been managed from the Saudi embassy, especially during the heyday of U.S.-Saudi comity presided over by Prince Bandar, a high-spirited Dallas Cowboys fan affectionately known to members of two recent administrations as Bandar Bush. “Bandar used to have strong ties with everyone in town,” explained Hussain Abdul-Hussain, a Washington-based journalist with Kuwait’s Al-Rai newspaper. The prince, who once bought a Jaguar for the wife of his long-time tennis partner, Colin Powell, and was shown war plans for Iraq, was far and away Washington’s preeminent diplomat.

While I was reading the story, I reminisced about our trip to the Saudi Embassy-huge and glittery and expensive and was amazed at how something I was taught so long ago continues to be relevant in my life today as I’ve grown out of the awkward weird foreign kid phase and now live in that city that amazed me before.  It really is true that some teachers can have a big impact on the direction your life goes, and Mrs. Bej was it for me.

Related on the blog:

The Sands of Saudi
Another person who wasn’t a big fan of high school