21 February 2013

5 Useful Things They Don't Teach in School

Recently I've been thinking of useful things I've learned that they don't teach in school. I don't mean schmalzty stuff like it's okay to fail, or how to love. Bah! I mean useful shit. Here are the first five things that come to mind:

1. How to Microwave Correctly
When microwaving, place your food on the outside of the turntable, not in the center, for more even heating. Read the explanation at lifehacker.com.

2. Turn Off the Lights, All of Them
Ever hear that it takes more energy to power on a fluorescent light (as opposed to leaving it lit)? Turns out, with today's CFL bulbs, it's better to switch them off than leave them on. The gub'ment says so!

3.  Nutrition Labels aren't for (most) Girls
Those nutrition labels on packaged food are based on the caloric needs of an average male adult. For a 5' 3" female, the calorie, fat, protein, etc. amounts are almost halved. Instead of 2,000 - 2,500 calories per day, I get 1200-1400. Exercise, of course, increases this number. Even still, the amounts on the label can be misleading. Calculate your daily calorie allotment.

4. How to Google
To be fair, we didn't have The Google yet when I was in school. Even still, there are a few simple tricks to being a better Googler that everyone should know. 

If all you ever do is type a few words into Google, well, I'm not saying you're doing it wrong, but you could be doing it better. One I use daily is site search. Let's say someone tells me about a recent article from the OC Register website about the Anaheim Ducks. So how do I go about finding this article? 
  • Go to ocregister.com and poke around until I find it?
  • Google "Anaheim Ducks news" and sort through all the articles?

Nyet! None of the above! I go Google and do a site search. It looks like this: 

ducks  site:ocregister.com

Note there are two spaces between "ducks" and site:ocregister.com - you're telling Google to look for the word ducks only on the website ocregister.com

You can use the additional search tools to further refine the results to items from the last hour, 24 hours, week, month or year.

Once you start using this, or the other Google search operators, you'll wonder how you ever used the interwebs without them.

The next time you're want to see what lamps IKEA sells, try: lamps  site:ikea.com and then choose the Images tab to browse pictures of lamps from IKEA's website. 

Beauty, eh?

5. Invest in index funds
There's a saying that Anything Worth Doing is Worth Doing Poorly. This doesn't apply to stocks. None of us is a financial genius or a psychic. If your employer has a retirement plan and matches contributions, that's free money. Buy an S&P Index fund like SNXFX, contribute to your employer matching max and pat yourself on the back.

I'm no stock expert, but I've read a lot of books, and the Boglehead book is the best of the bunch. By "best" I mean that I had a brokerage account where I followed the index find plan, and another where I went my own way (with an advisor no less). Guess which account is doing better? Yeah, the index fund account which I paid almost zero attention to... less work, better return. 

Why didn't someone teach me this in school?

01 February 2013

Sushi 101: How to Eat Sushi Correctly

Americans who say they like sushi
really just like the taste of soy sauce and wasabi

I recently went on a food tour in Little Tokyo and learned some surprising things about sushi.

In case you're wondering:
As a Japanese-American, madhapa, why didn't you know this stuff already?
      - Mom made lots of delish Japanese food, but not sushi
      - Let's not forget I'm a vegetarian

To verify the authenticity of this Sushi 101 session, I emailed my friend who is married to a Japanese woman (the real kind), has lived in Japan and speaks fluent Japanese. He backed up everything I learned and also referred me to this colorful story of the (recently-retired) LA Sushi Nazi.

#1 Don't "smooth" your chopsticks
For one thing, scraping one crappy chopstick against another doesn't actually remove splinters.

The other reason not to is, in Japan and perhaps some high-end sushi joints in the US, they put some thought and expense into those disposable utensils. Rubbing them together is uncouth and the restauranteur may be offended. It's okay to ask for another set of chopsticks if the ones you receive actually have splinters.

#2 Sushi should be eaten with your fingers. Not chopsticks.

The hot towel or oshibori isn't something the Japanese copped from the airlines. So don't wipe your face and neck with it, the towel is only meant for your hands. Why?  Because sushi = finger-food!

(cue noise of record scratching).

Who knew? Sushi (as opposed to rice-less sashimi) was perhaps the world's first finger food. Imagine a Japanese villager in the days before Nintendo. He's looking for a quick snack,  approaches the local sushi stand and orders. He gets a slab or two of rice topped with fish, and buggers off.

People don't carry chopsticks around; sushi was and is a finger food. Would you carry around a knife and fork to eat a sandwich or a hot dog?

Okay, right now I am going to go make some curry and rice. Seriously, this is making me hungry....

...aaaaand, we're back.

#3 Don't mix your wasabi and soy sauce together.

sushi dish for soy sauceI don't know about you, but as soon as that tray o' sushi arrives I scoop up the wasabi splut, douse it in soy sauce and mix until I have a greeny-brown paste. As it turns out - for veg sushi this is okay. You can also mix 'em together if you're eating sashimi (fish sans rice). But generally speaking, mixing wasabi and soy sauce together IS NOT OKAY, ROUND-EYE!

How is it supposed to work? Okay, picture one of those small soy sauce dishes. Sometimes it has a little engraving in it, right? The purpose of that drawing or engraving is to tell you when to stop pouring. You're not supposed to cover up the entire image and limit your overall soy sauce usage to about one tablespoon. This leaves room on the edge of your dish for a swipe of wasabi.

elaborate sushi rollDon't use soy sauce at all if the name of the sushi roll you ordered corresponds to:
  • A creature (dragon, spider)
  • A place (Alaska, California)
  • or includes the word "crunchy."

If you dunk one of the aforementioned rolls in sushi, you're masking the delicious taste of avocado, mayonnaise, tempura bits, or whatever you paid extra for to mask the taste of the fish - with soy sauce and wasabi.

Speaking of which.

#4 Sushi Tastes Better Upside Down

Eat sushi so the fish touches your tongue first. If you like the taste of fish, this ensures you get to really taste the flavor of it. Dousing the sushi in soy sauce or eating it rice first will cause you to lose some or all of the taste of the fish.

After eating the first piece, if you feel the next bit needs some soy sauce, give it a light brush, not a dip, through your soy sauce dish / swipe of wasabi. Fun fact: sometimes the sushi chef puts wasabi under the fish. Who knew that was there?

#5 Eat Your Sushi in the Right Order

Some fish is fattier than others and the leaner cuts should be eaten first. The fattier fish will compromise your palate for the lighter one. How do you know which is which, lean vs fat? On some sushi menus they clue you in by listing a leaner fish such as tuna above a about a fattier one like salmon.

crazy sushi chef

If you order multiple items, the chef may serve the leaner item first. If you accidentally order a fattier one first, eat some of that pickled ginger they give you.

#6 Do These Rules Really Matter?

If you're a vegetarian or you only eat sashimi, the above rules don't matter (except perhaps the chopsticks rule). In fact, if you only eat sushi in North America, you can probably ignore all of the above. But isn't it nice to know that the right way to eat something is with your fingers? It's not rude, it's culturally correct!

In closing...

I got nothin' else. So, how about this: who else remembers the horrifically awesome Kikkoman flash video from the 90's? I don't know which bit of randomness I like best: the cat in the shame room (1min 26) or Kikkoman in bed with a lady (1min 35).

Now sing it with me! Show Me! Show You! Ki-ko-Man! Ki-ko-Man!