It’s April, and baseball season is back. So far, it has been a mediocre season for the Blue Jays, but it takes more than 1 season of success for me to get too comfortable with high expectations. As such, I remain pessimistic and await a hot streak to become unrealistically optimistic before having my hopes dashed again.
Baseball season comes and goes every year in roughly the same fashion. However, I as a fan will be experiencing this season in a very different way. Thanks to a winning project at the Baseball Hack Day, I got a free subscription to mlb.tv premium, so I can watch or listen to any tv or radio broadcast for any out-of-market games. As such, it is actually beneficial that my favorite team is located across the country because the games are never blacked out.
So far, I have watched parts of maybe half of the Jays games this season, and I think that might already put me above the total I have watched in any past season. When I was growing up, I mostly followed baseball in the newspapers and listened to Astros games on the radio. When I moved to college, I picked up the Baseball Today podcast. After I stopped listening to the podcast, I caught clips and read online. However, never through any of that was I consistently watching games. Now, I come home and can watch the games on my iPad or Apple TV.
Continuing my shameless plug, the At Bat app is quite good. The UI is easy to use, and the streaming works reliably. Past that, there are lots of fancy features like stats and split-screen, but really the important part is being able to carry the game around with me into the kitchen to have on in the background while cooking. Even if the Jays game is done, I have been watching other games as well. Particularly, I have found myself following a lot of Mets and Cubs games as I try to follow the favorites. So far, I coincidentally have caught every Jake Arrieta game. He’s having a great season.
I’m glad to be able to share baseball with Julie as well. Most of my passion for baseball has been expressed indirectly through memories of plays that happened years ago. Instead, it’s much easier to sit down, watch a game, and discuss the in-game decisions and see the different types of pitches one after another. Baseball is often criticized for being a very slow game, but it has actually been quite nice because we can watch the game passively and tune in every once in awhile between whatever else we’re doing.
Over the years, I have wondered how my life would be different if I actually lived in Toronto, went to a lot of games, spent the time watching games, and actually followed the team. It turns out that it didn’t take nearly that much effort to get engaged with the team again. Baseball is a long season, and hopefully I make good use of my subscription all throughout.
In the last 2 weeks, both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive came to consumers as the newest, fanciest virtual reality (VR) hardware available. Maybe you have had an opportunity to try out VR before, but I get the sense that this is the year and iteration on VR that really has the industry excited. Thankfully, my coworker Chris happened to pick up the HTC Vive and brought it into the office for all of us to try it out.
I will repeat the same thing you will hear from everyone else that explains nothing: you have to try it to understand how cool it is. I started out by playing Space Pirate Trainer, a game where Space Invaders-like drones float around you, and you have 2 blasters to shoot all of them down. The game has a few interesting mechanics, such as a shield you can “grab” off of your back, various blaster settings, and a Matrix-like bullet time to help dodge drone shots. Continue reading First Thoughts on the HTC Vive and Virtual Reality
I have been telling people that making a wedding registry is a lot of fun: you get the joy of shopping without the pain of actually paying for anything. However, it hasn’t been a senseless shopping spree for Julie and me, and it has required far more deliberation than I had initially thought.
We started assembling our registry a few weeks ago when Julie created a shared Reminders list on our phones. Despite already owning plenty of single-function kitchen equipment, I always have my eye on something else. For example, I needed to fill an Amazon order a few weeks ago and ended up getting a shrimp deveiner. You might think that a pairing knife would suffice, but I have spent many afternoons deveining piles of shrimp to make won ton. As such, this icicle-shaped piece of plastic could change my life as much as a banana slicer or cherry pitter has.
The first pass on the registry was easy: I had wanted an ice cream maker for a long time. And a cookie dough scoop. And a cake carrier. And plenty of much more obscure equipment. Although I could only marginally justify purchasing these things myself, it was easy to ask for them knowing we were filling out a registry.
We drove out to the mall and walked through Williams-Sonoma and Crate and Barrel to work on our registry. I feel like a child in a toy store when I’m in Williams-Sonoma: I see lots of things that I want but can’t reasonably get. It’s really easy to see measuring cups and want new measuring cups but hard to get rid of old measuring cups. Knowing there was no cost to it, however, our registry quickly filled up to a few dozen items.
After that, the registry sat unattended on our phones for several weeks. I think we knew that the tough work was ahead and liked the idea of the registry more than actually composing it. It’s easy to want a cookie dough scoop: it’s harder to figure out exactly which of the 3 models of cookie dough scoops is best and will ultimately be the best choice for us.
Two or three weeks ago, Julie actually created the registries online, and we started working through it. I had my “America’s Test Kitchen” cookbook out to the equipment guide section and The Sweethome open on another tab. Thankfully, other, more talented and patient people have tested and rated the quality of many items to find the very best anything. With them at hand, I know which one is the sharpest or which one is the easiest to clean. Some items were easy to pick: there is apparently 1 Bundt pan to buy, and the stores carry it. Some required some effort, such as the Peugeot pepper mill, which is available but comes in a variety of sizes and colors. Others, like the electric kettle, came with suggestions unavailable where we were registering. In those cases, was it even worth registering if we could get the best one?
There has been a surprising amount of soul-searching in creating the registry as well, especially compared to other wedding decisions. Luckily, Julie and I have either been on the same page or disproportionately invested in other wedding decisions. We have split the work on researching different vendors and then picked the best one in a reasonable process.
On top of registry items for new kitchen gadgets, registries often contain replacements for existing items, and those existing items may have emotional attachments for some people. I can comfortably say that accusingly because I have been the problem in our registry. As we ticked down the list of items to register for, Julie innocently mentioned everyday china. At the thought of not using the Corelle plates and bowls that I had grown up using and then selfishly taken from my parents, I immediately became defensive and began rationalizing with Julie why we should keep them.
Julie was taken aback by my emotional response to some lightweight, microwavable plates and bowls, but she did relent after a series of baffling (to her) conversations. That, however, only eliminated one decision, and we next looked deeper into the wide world of fine china and silverware. Unlike functional kitchen tools where you can determine the best model measuring a series of objective measures, china is quite subjective, with which I am of only limited use. Best of luck to Julie with that.
We’re almost done with the registry, and I’m looking forward to having that figured out. I thought it was just going to be a big shopping spree, but we have had to think much harder than that. Although most wedding decisions are one-time choices for a single day, registry gifts may follow us for the rest of our lives. If we don’t make the right choice now, I might die a little every time I try to grate parmesan over the next 60 years.
That’s a big decision that, in some ways, probably matches the significance of marriage much more strongly than most wedding decisions. Not only am I committing to Julie for the rest of my life, I’m also committing to this microplane zester for the rest of my life, though that’s more because I’m too cheap to replace it. At least with the registry, we can make independent choices on specific items to optimize the whole registry in a tractable manner. In picking each other, we’re each kind of a package deal: if Julie wants my vegetable chopping ability, she will also have to accept the subpar dish cleaning job.
I can’t speak for her, but I’m more than happy with that.
A few weeks ago, the hair on Julie’s cello bow fell off. We found a luthier in San Jose and drove the 25 minutes to an unfamiliar part of town. Seeing the matching address, I pulled forward into street parking directly in front of the shop and the Mexican restaurant next door. The luthier shop itself was a remodeled house built decades ago: violins and viola lined the walls of what once must have been the small living room and dining room.
Altogether, our visit was quick, and we were told to come back in a few days to pick up the repaired bow. Normally, we would have headed straight home, but we saw a vintage-looking Foster’s Freeze on the block on our drive in and decided to treat ourselves to some ice cream.
After we ordered and paid for our ice cream, the owner asked if we wanted “one more for the cello” as he pointed at the case on Julie’s back. We laughed, then took the raspberry cheesecake twister he handed us to sit down and eat.
If you’re unfamiliar with the twister, you’re not. It’s soft serve ice cream with a mix-in flavor, like butterfingers or M&Ms. They’re also known as McDonald’s McFlurry or Dairy Queen’s Blizzard. Whatever you call it or whoever makes it, it’s delicious, thick enough to be turned upside down, and comes in sizes larger than any single person should eat. Somehow, combining soft serve ice cream with chocolate bars is exactly as good as it should be.
Most of my Blizzard consumption came on summer road trips with my family. I can’t tell you where any single Dairy Queen is, but I can guarantee you that I could one by driving on a highway for an hour anywhere in the US between 2 big cities. We never considered getting hot food at DQ: it was always about the ice cream, and the blizzards specifically, at that. There are too many flavors for me t confidently have a favorite, but I was always trying something new and hoping that my sisters got something different as well to try.
Even outside of road trips, ice cream was always important in my family. My grandpa kept ice cream in his basement deep freezer for my weekend visits after doing dim sum. He only had the universally derided wafer cones, but I couldn’t complain about a vehicle for ice cream. Once, he got maple ice cream instead of the usual vanilla: it sounds delicious now but apparently didn’t pass muster for 5 year old Kevin. When I performed the rare act of rejecting ice cream, he ended up eating it himself on the patio while I played in a kiddie pool in the backyard.
My other grandparents were big ice cream fans: they had blocks of Chapman’s ice cream their freezers everywhere they went. We would have defrosted slices of cake with ice cream on top. I think they enjoyed it just as much as I did, and I hope they kept the habit even without grandchildren around. Still, they knew that was an easy way to please and share something with us .
My mom also regularly got us ice cream at the mall. I always got SuperKid ice cream at Laura Secord, and we probably covered the 32 flavors at Baskin-Robbins, too. I can’t remember if she got ice cream, too: I hope so. Even now, we still talk about ice cream. A lot of plans are still up uncertain for when my family comes out to the bay area in a few months, we all agree that the Kitchen Sink is a must.
I don’t know many people without allergies who don’t like ice cream, and given how much children enjoy it, ice cream is an easy love to share between generations. Food is a very common way for families to show how much they care, whether it be that warm chicken noodle soup or those soft chocolate chip cookies. Even within food, however, ice cream has a special place: it stays when generations change ethnic cuisines or health diets or just different preferences. It is shared both in the home kitchen and outside to the local ice cream parlor, or in my case, the Dairy Queen in the middle of nowhere, USA. The diversity of flavors makes it both flexible to tastes and enduring as an idea. And it’s something that we can pretty much always use to return to childhood memories.
Of course, it isn’t always the same thing. Last week, Julie and I went to the mall, and I had Dippin’ Dots for the first time.
I had seen them in malls countless times before and had always been curious. Julie gave a good explanation for why she (and I) didn’t like them: one of the best qualities of ice cream is how smooth and creamy it is. Dippin’ Dots are definitely not smooth and creamy. Even so, I found myself desperately trying to scoop up the last of the melted syrup at the bottom of the cup when I finished. Ice cream is still ice cream and has some essence that can take you back to other serving you have ever had.
As hopefully all of you know, the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 24-10 at Levi’s Stadium. As a football fan living here in the Bay Area where Levi’s Stadium is located, I got to experience in the game in a few different ways.
First, I saw the Bay Area as a resident annoyed at the effect of tourism. We were warned that millions would be descending upon the city and that traffic and public transit would be problematic. To be honest, however, I didn’t really notice much of a difference as my daily life doesn’t seem to intersect with the public very much.
Second, I saw the Last Monday, I headed up to Super Bowl City, a few blocks of downtown San Francisco taped off for a bunch of booths and free concerts for the public. On the evening I went up, it was relatively chilly, and there wasn’t a concert going on. As such, most of the activity was centered around modular buildings for companies such as Kaiser Permanente, Verizon, and Intel. Most of the things worth doing, however, had relatively long lines that we weren’t patient enough to wait for. Overall, it wasn’t a particularly interesting experience, but I’m glad I went since I would have regretted not seeing it.
Third, I saw the game like any good US resident: at a Super Bowl party. One of my co-workers helpfully “volunteered” his place to host, and we prepared the usual array of chips, frozen pizzas, chicken wings, and other generally unhealthy game snacks. Somehow, the Super Bowl has ended up being one of the great, annual American culinary events alongside Thanksgiving and the 4th of July. However, it is unique in my mind because I don’t think about elevating it with creative recipes or “good” food, per se. I would rather just eat the same bags of chips and bake frozen foods.
I also paid attention to the important parts of the game by taking my bathroom break while the Panthers were on offense so I didn’t miss any commercials. I generally enjoyed the commercials this year: it seems like they have cleaned up a lot of the most outrageous ads, and they generally seem to do fun ads now. I think my favorite commercials were the avocados in space and the prius getaway car. I also really enjoyed the half-time show.
Fourth, I saw the game like a football fan. Specifically, I watched as a fantasy football team owner who wasn’t really rooting for either team but wanted to see a good game. And for a defensive struggle, it was a surprisingly good game. Most defensive struggles end up being quite boring while nothing really happens as both teams stop each other. This game, however, had 7 fumbles and 2 interceptions for a totally wild ride.
Few, singular events end up affecting me in so many ways, but the Super Bowl really has its own culture around it far beyond what happens on the field itself. Like Game of Thrones, I see it as something big enough that it’s worth participating just because everyone else is. So regardless of whether you got a 4-faceted experience like me or if you were rooting for the winning or losing team, at least we all share something to talk about this week.
You may or may not have noticed that I never really concluded my dinner table tournament. Despite my claim to be good at maintaining commitments and projects, I definitely stopped well short of goal to cover all of the options. I did, however, make it slightly further than my blog would indicate because Julie and I did end up trying a CSA about 6 months ago, so here’s my extremely belated post about it.
Farm Fresh to You
Farm Fresh to You is a community supported agriculture provider. The idea is that consumers can cut out the grocery store middleman and get produce directly from local farms. There are various schemes of how it works, but the basic setup is that I, as a consumer, pay a farm, and they send me shipments of whatever they’re current growing on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
Many people have opinions about the benefits or issues with this, but I was interested in trying it primarily for 2 reasons. First, I would get better, fresher, riper produce. The story goes that produce at the grocery store has to be picked early so that it will not rot en-route before getting to the consumer. Since CSAs cut out that step, the produce can be picked at perfect ripeness. Second, I would get different stuff. I like the novelty of eating, cooking, and cooking with different things. When I go grocery shopping, I will naturally tend to buy produce that I know how to use and how to cook with. With a CSA, I would be forced to use whatever showed up and, as a consequence, try new things.
We ended up signing up at a booth during a community event in downtown Mountain View. Although I could tell that they guy was going through his sales shtick, I felt okay going along since we intended to try a CSA anyways. He got us a discount for our first couple boxes, and in the end, each bi-weekly shipment was somewhere in the range of $30-40.
Our box showed up early Friday morning, so we opened it up over breakfast and discussed our options.
The mix included a few different types of fruit, 2 types of peppers, 2 types of grapes, some greens, tomatillos, and a few other items I can’t identify several months later. Overall, we were quite satisfied with the variety and set about planning how to use everything.
Prior to that day, I could not have told you what was in green salsa. Maybe just green bell peppers? It turns out that green salsa is mostly just tomatillo with something spicy (peppers) in it. We found a recipe for green salsa, and it turned out great. The fresh salsa listed on the same page was not good. I would not recommend that. But the roasted salsa was good, and I definitely learned why I should be less impressed with the salsa options at Mexican restaurants.
The peppers ended up as fajita vegetables for fajita night.
and we also roasted and sauteed the other vegetables for another meal.
The butter lettuce ended up as part of our salads. I sadly realized a long time ago that I didn’t know how to make good salads. I think I leaned too much on vegetables (all bitter) without balancing it out. With Julie’s guidance, we stepped up our salad with apple, dried cranberries, blue cheese, and candied nuts.
Given just the text above and the pictures, you might have been led to believe that we had a good experience with it. You would be correct. We liked the CSA enough that we got another 4-5 boxes.
Unfortunately, I don’t think a box ever went that well again. We got the first box on a signup promotion, so subsequent boxes ended up with much less in them. We also noticed that they often were filled with less exciting staples, like onions and green lettuce, which didn’t really taste any better to us than what we got at the grocery store. Because it was just produce, we ended up having to go to the grocery store anyways to fill out our meals for a week.
The final realization, however, came when I went shopping the day after receiving a box and seeing a few of the more unusual items at the Milk Pail. I walked through the store and tallied up the cost of buying an equivalent amount and realized that I would come out far ahead doing my own shopping–which I do anyways. I immediately added a task for myself to cancel my subscription, which took probably another month because I had to call in during work hours to do it, and I’m bad at completing tasks that require phone calls during work hours.
I had a good experience with Farm Fresh to You. I have realized that I enjoy the process of cooking, and a CSA mostly lets me do that. However, I think I am mostly spoiled to have the Milk Pail just down the street from me, where I can get cheap, local, fresh produce. In the end, the CSA just provided me the convenience of delivering a few of the same items at a premium, and that wasn’t worth it to me.
Here are my rankings:
Farm Fresh to You (CSA)
You may be surprised to see the CSA not first despite it being the closest to my normal pattern. Were normal home cooking not an option, it would be first, but I think that I would be more likely to mix Blue Apron into my meals than the CSA.
There’s a chance I will continue the Dinner Table Tournament in the future, but in the spirit of sunsetting responsibilities for my New Year’s Hopes, I think I will declare it done. I will probably continue to blog about food, but it will likely be in a far less structured format.
This post is part of the Dinner Table Tournament where I pull Julie along my need for novel experiences in “staying in” dinner options to generate blog content. I have not been compensated by Farm Fresh to You for this in any way for this post. Yet.
A few weeks ago, I finished up the latest fantasy football* (FF) season in 2nd place in my work league and 5th place in my friend league. Having played for 3 seasons, I am mostly past the initial disgust about bad luck and mostly jaded about the entire process. Having gotten this far, though, I do have a few different lessons from the experience.
(*for the uninitiated, fantasy football is a game where a group of people (usually friends) play “games” in a season where, each week, your team’s performance is determined by the statistics of how real-life NFL football players perform (e.g. you get 6 points for a touchdown or points per yards gained). Everyone drafts their team before the beginning of the real NFL season, and over the course of the season, you can trade with other teams, pick up and drop players, and change your lineup week to week. )
1. Actual game knowledge can be very deceiving.
“A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.” When you’re on a fantasy football website, there are going to be projections and rankings and all sorts of information to help you make good decisions. I have seen a lot of real football fans (i.e. people who actually watch and follow football and not just fantasy) try to outsmart the predictions with some obscure knowledge, but my experience is that typically, the football-naive (but fantasy savvy) people do better. Maybe you heard that your running back plays really well in sub-50 degree games or saw how fast he makes cuts and should crush a slower set of linebackers: the experts probably know that, too, and that he only plays that way in indoor stadums, and that his left guard still has a lingering injury.I think we tend to overvalue game knowledge in fantasy when rankings have already accounted for those facts.
Despite this not being my first blog post of the year, I have not forgotten about New Year’s Hopes. As a reminder, New Year’s Hopes are like Resolutions, except with less of the false sense of confidence. Before diving into this year’s, let’s review last year’s hopes.
Old 2015 Hopes
1. Get more sleep.
Technically, this went well. Julie and I managed to adjust our sleep schedule back about a half-hour to get from 7 hours of sleep to 7 1/2 hours of sleep. Unfortunately, I think that 7 1/2 hours of sleep is still not enough. I think it’s telling that I thought that a good goal for 2016 would be to get more sleep and had totally forgotten that it was a 2015 goal.
As such, this goes in as an unofficial 2016 hope to get more sleep, where more sleep is defined as 8 hours. To get there, I think I need to start getting ready for bed at 10PM and have lights out at 11PM. One suggestion I read somewhere was to do a mini turndown service to start the shutdown process. Maybe I will try that.
2. Spend my time better.
Reflecting on this goal, I have no idea if I was successful with this or not. Unfortunately, it seems very difficult to quantify, but again, I had come to a similar type of goal for 2016 without remembering that I had done this one. That probably means that I did not satisfy this goal. Unlike the previous goal, however, I will not repeat it because i don’t know how I would know if I had accomplished it.
3. Put together a digital family tree.
Surprisingly, this mostly happened. The main obstacle was putting together the application to store all of the data, and I actually managed to do that. The trick now is just to get the data in, and assuming I built it well, that shouldn’t be too tricky. I will have to make an Asana task for myself to do that, but I am ready.
New 2016 Hopes
1. Watch more TV.
It’s an unusual goal, and I admittedly am being sensational with the title. My real goal here is to watch less twitch.tv. I had initially started watching gaming streams to follow professional StarCraft, but I have been falling out of the eSports scene, and twitch just became a distraction while in-between more significant events and a procrastination tool. Since I am mainly interested in the games rather than the community aspect of twitch, I just wasn’t getting much value out of it.
On the flip side, I am notoriously bad at watching TV and have taken far too long to watch too little. There are many reasons, but I think a primary one is that I feel that the right way to watch is to dedicate time to fully watch episodes without multi-tasking. Realistically, I just can’t watch all of the TV I want to in that fashion, and there is a lot of TV I am probably willing to watch while distracted. Examples include Reboot, Archer, and Star Trek: Enterprise.
So my hope is to watch less twitch and watch more TV.
2. Sunset some of my commitments and projects.
I (egotistically) think I am pretty good about following through on a lot of tasks and commitments. I have multiple active side projects (as listed on my website) and partake in many hobbies (often with friends). Most people tend to seek advice about how to complete projects, but I tend to have more issues figuring out how to finish up with ongoing responsibilities and move on when they have become more of a burden than benefit to myself.
I think the issue goes down to a core belief that the best things in life like friendships or skills should be permanent, lifelong commitments. As noble as that sounds, however, some things are meant to be fleeting through different stages of life. I think I need to be more realistic when things aren’t working out and not feeling guilty about letting down those who might be impacted.
All of this is, of course, coming from the guy who just picked up the tuba again after about 8 years and is trying to revive his blog. To do those things, however, I need to make time, so I hope I can deliver on this goal.
3. Express gratitude on a daily basis.
I don’t have a reference at the moment, but according to science, one happiness-creating habit is showing gratitude regularly. The most common method is to write down a few things you are grateful for every night before going to sleep, but I think that expressing gratitude to someone else or keeping it in mind through regular life all broadly fall into the category. Regardless of the efficacy, it just seems like a good idea for being more conscientious and maintaining perspective in my life, especially given how lucky I have been.
This is a minor digression, but having not grown up in a religious household, my family never said grace before meals. As such, the practice never meant much to me before, but in the lens of this hope, saying grace seems like a great way of regularly expressing gratitude. I hope to be able to do something similar, if without the religious connotations.
When I am further along and in a more thoughtful mood, I’ll write a more complete post explaining why I decided to join a community wind ensemble and play tuba again. This post, however, is just a smattering of reactions from going to my first rehearsal in about 8 years.
Overall, the experience was a lot of fun. It’s amazing that I sat in a room of total strangers and was able to make music as part of a large ensemble. Some things went well. Some things did not go well. Here were the highlights.
Things that were liking riding a bike
1. Hitting notes. I’m probably overestimating how well I did, but in general, I was able to find the intervals fairly well. I tested my range up to 3 octaves, so that’s pretty much all there as well.
2. Rhythms. We got some funky time signatures like 4/2 and 5/8, and for an instrument best known for playing downbeats in a polka-like fashion, we had some strange syncopated rhythms as well. I definitely flubbed some faster sections, but I mostly didn’t get lost.
3. Counting rests. Nothing makes you feel more special in music than counting rests for 20 bars.
4. Hearing tuning problems. During warmup and in a few long notes, I could hear that I was badly out of tune. I actually didn’t even have a tuba when I showed up for rehearsal, and the director fortunately had an extra tuba lying around to lend to me. at least it was a miraphone, which is mostly what I have played. Anyways, I didn’t know the instrument and didn’t get a chance to tune with a machine.
Things that were not like riding a bike
1. Fixing tuning problems. Just because I could hear the issues and knew why they were happening didn’t mean I could fix them. On more than one occasion, I stopped playing because I knew I sounded bad and couldn’t do anything about it.
2. Key signatures. Were it not for the big poster on the wall of the middle school music room with the circle of fifths, I would give myself a 50-50 chance of naming the key I was in at any given measure. I instead relied largely on instinct for whether a note should be sharp or flat based on roughly how many symbols were in the key signature. Many apologies to the tuba player next to me who listened to me miss the same notes over and over.
3. Accidentals. I could not think fast enough for some of the accidentals, especially the weird ones like F-flat. Actually, combined with my uncertainty about the key signature, I probably accidentally played the accidentals correctly. Nevermind. This one went okay.
4. Endurance. This actually didn’t go as badly as I thought it might: the tuba parts were not too difficult, so I made it through a 2 1/2 hour rehearsal without blowing out my chops. However, I felt a lot of tightness in my lips while I was warming up and generally did not play the full dynamic range during rehearsal, so it was a constraint. On a related note, if you have not had tightness in your lips from playing a brass instrument for the first time in a long time, take my word for it that it is extremely bizarre.
5. Reading ledger lines. In my high school music, I was largely spared playing low notes because the music tended not to go that low (maybe an E below the staff). The music we were sightreading, however, was much more challenging in this sense because I was regularly reading 3 or 4 ledger lines below the staff, and I have no idea what any of those notes are. I know I can hit them if I had a fingering written in, but I didn’t, so I just put a lot of fingers down and played low. I think most people are not trained to distinguish notes that low anyways, so I got away with it.
Overall, I thought that the rehearsal went well, and I really enjoyed playing again, even if I missed so many key signatures. I hopefully will write more about the experience soon, but in the meantime, you can check out my view of rehearsal.
Long time readers of almost exactly 1 year may remember that I cook a Thanksgiving dinner for my company a week or 2 before actual Thanksgiving. It is probably the biggest event that I host each year, and I hopefully am learning more each time about how to do it better.
Continuing my tradition of doing different ethnic cuisines, I did a Cajun Thanksgiving this year with a Creole spice mix over the turkey and a variety of spicy and rich dishes. Fortunately, I am the only person on the team from the south, so there weren’t many critical opinions in the crowd.
Overall, I think the food was fine. The turkey was overcooked, and the mashed potatoes were very salty (even after cutting down the salt from the recipe). Because Cajun is a real American cuisine, it already has Thanksgiving fare that is not so dissimilar from a traditional Thanksgiving.
The biggest factor, however, was the attendance. Last year, we had somewhere just shy of 10 people attend. This year, our 2 bedroom place hosted a total of 20 hungry people. This year, more significant others attended, and we also invited recent interns back. The team has also been growing, and all of this ballooned the headcount, expectations, and required preparation.
Overall, I think we managed to do well. Despite running out of most dishes, the guests seemed to be well-fed and enjoyed the food. Everyone seemed to enjoy the company, and the mix of SOs and former Zanbato employees made it a more special event than another meal with the people we spend 40+ hours with a week.
Here were a few of the things I learned and/or felt worked well with the party this year:
1. Create a clear, smooth welcome experience.
First impressions between people are important, and first impressions about a party also set the tone for the social experience the rest of the night. In the past, I have been bouncing back and forth between the door and the kitchen hollering out instructions while trying to dash back to my gravy. This year, I wrote up a series of signs directing guests to come right in at the front door, where to put their bags and jackets, and where to find drinks and appetizers.
2. In a small space, configure and reconfigure to make all of the space multi-functional.
With 20 people in a few hundred square feet (including my kitchen), we fit the normal dining table, an additional folding table, and a few couches around a coffee table for eating. I knew I wanted to have everyone standing and mingling during the appetizer hour, so we pushed all of the tables back against the walls and blocked out the chairs so that people couldn’t really settle in. This created a more open, standing space for people to float around and get settled.
When we were ready to serve, everyone was happy to help and rearrange furniture for dining. We cleaned just enough counter space in the kitchen to serve and moved the appetizers and beverages back off of the tables. Then, everyone found a seat to enjoy their meal.
We did find 2 things to improve. First, Julie pointed out that the appetizers were hard to get to because people were standing in front of them. They ended up being placed somewhat int he corner, so next time, I would place them more centrally. Second, I would have encouraged everyone to switch seats between dinner and dessert for more mingling.
3. To feed more people, multiply recipes instead of making more dishes.
Overall, the cooking process went very smoothly. This year, I went digital with my chart to plan out cooking, and we stuck with it. I conscripted my coworker Conrad to help cook through the last push, and we stayed on the schedule very well.
Even so, cooking did take quite awhile between the previous evening and the day of. Seeing how we ran out of most everything, I think people would have been just as happy with having 2-3 fewer dishes and just doubling the recipes. That would have saved me a ton of work as well.
4. Don’t worry too much about the food.
Maybe people are just being polite, but I have gotten a lot of appreciation for the food despite my own opinion about the quality of the cooking. I wouldn’t say that people aren’t critical: I just think there is generally enough goodwill and merriment in the atmosphere that the food itself just doesn’t matter so much.
So whether the food is good or bad or too much or too little, I think the party depends more on the other details of the environment and the company present than the food itself. The time spent on the food will always be disproportionately high to its importance, and it is much harder to improvise than, say, a guest list.
Anyways, we’re headed into the holiday season now, so best of luck to all hosts. Don’t worry too much about the food, and enjoy the company!