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This is a quick post to offer 3 little tips that I think pay big dividends.  The first should help improve your sleep/wake cycle ifeven to a small degree, the second is to make cooking easier and the third is to save some money at the grocery store.

 

F.lux

I can’t remember where I came across this but I had been reading about blue light exposure and how it affects our sleep/wake cycle by stimulating us too late into the night.  F.lux works by changing the brightness and color warmth to match the time of day. 

At first I wasn't sure I like it but now I really like the difference in color and tone depending on the time of day I am using my laptop.  My eyes already feel better and do not get that sore and tired feeling they usually might when staring at a computer screen really early or late in the day.

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You simply download it and enter your zip code so it can change along with the sunrise and sunset for that region.  The program runs in a little icon next to your clock and you can click on it anytime to see the display, as shown above.  In the morning the screen has this lighter, washed-out feel to it, the afternoon looks most like what you’re screen looks like now but I really love what the screen looks like at night.  The color tone is warm and saturated and a lot easier on the eyes.  I really love it and so glad I stumbled across this.  Check it out:

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Knife Skillz

Coming from a culinary background, it drives me absolutely bonkers when I go to someone’s house and use one of their cheap, flimsy and dull-as-heck knives.  Even a skilled cook gets “minus-10 knife skillz” points every time they pick one up.

Simply put, if you have a dull knife, there is simply no way to make nice, even cuts on vegetables or properly trim meat, fish etc.  My test is always the tomato test.  Can I slice a tomato by cutting through the skin side without mashing it or pushing all the juice out?  If not, it is time to get your knife sharpened.  Note:  A serrated knife doesn’t count, it has to be a chef’s knife.

Quickly:  You can easily purchase a solid knife for less than $50.  Santoku style are great for all-around cooking but they lack the rounded edge that makes the “rocking motion” while chopping veggies like onions, tomatoes, cucumbers etc so easy.  However it is a good starting point.

I bought my mom the Victorinox 7-Inch Granton Edge Santoku Knife, Rosewood Handle knife for Christmas and it is pretty sweet.  I also recommend a heavier knife like an 8-12” Henkle or Messermeister for the fact that it can chop through bone or be used as a weapon in case of the apocalypse (or both).

If you are really serious about cooking you might as well own a sharpening whetstone.  They will last forever and are the only thing that really gets them sharp.  I guess you could pay someone to sharpen them but that just seems too upper-class for me.  Shun makes a good model that has a 1000/6000 grit on either side.  You want a 1000, which is rougher, for sanding down the edge and actually making the blade edge sharper.  The 6000 smooths out the edge and straightens it.  The Shun comes with a rubber base and is less than $100.

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I bought my two whetstones at a specialty hardware store that sold lots of saws and blades for carpenters and woodwork.  They are years old, still work awesome and were a similar price.

You could just go with a “steel”.  You know those straight pieces of metal everyone has in their kitchen and has no idea how to use?  Yeah, those.  Long story short, they don’t really work unless you get a diamond edge steel.  The normal metal steel basically just straightens the edge out as the blade edge gets bent with use but it’s not enough to make a difference.  Buy a diamond edge steel, which will actually sharpen your blade a bit between real sharpenings. They work great.

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A final note here.  Please, please, please find someone to show you how to use these.  If nothing else, watch a bunch of Youtube videos.  If not, ask a friendly chef, a knowledgeable merchant or me, if I am around.

 

Asian Market Time

 

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Look under your couch cushion for change.  Take whatever you find and go to your nearest Asian market.  Your handful of change will be more than enough to buy soy sauce, Sriracha, Hoisin, spices and noodles.  There really is no reason to spend so much on these items at the big box grocery stores.  You know, some of these things are only “exotic” to us.  For certain populations, Hoisin is pretty ho-hum and ordinary which is why they don’t mark it up at these markets.

Right now I am staring at giant bottles of rice vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce and sesame oil on my kitchen rack, none which cost more than a dollar and change each.  These markets also carry bulk spices like turmeric, cumin and dried chili powders as well as an array of vinegars, oils and pre-made sauces.

They only sauce I ever bought that scared me was peanut, chili and sesame oil sauce that had other ingredients I couldn’t name, tasted like a fireball peanut and gave me a headache.  I kept it in my fridge for years out of novelty and I am pretty sure the sauce had achieved consciousness by the time I threw it out.   If you see it, run away!

You’ll also find that rice, noodles, dried mushrooms (not those kind) and even fruits and vegetables like potatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro and scallions are really inexpensive.

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My one recommendation to try is Shirataki noodles.  They are made from mushrooms, tofu or devil’s tongue yams(not a true yam) depending on the brand and are super low-carb, if that’s your thing, but fill the carbohydrate craving.  The yam form is the original and is pretty much just soluble fiber but you can boil them or dry-fry them in a pan and use as you would any other noodle.

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