Greetings from the office of The Iron Warrior! It was a quite a crazy weekend with a few bumps along the way. Turns out trying to put together a newspaper after hell week is not a good way to take it easy and recover from the lack of sleep, caffeine withdrawal and whatever other things plague us after hell week. I must say that the fact that production weekend falls right after midterms and on Hallowe’en weekend definitely puts a damper on my weekend, but it is all good. I will live.
I am not sure about everyone else but midterms weren’t actually that bad for me. The worst part was that last Electromagnetism midterm and the fact that I ran out of food at home about half way through the week. I probably spent an extra 20 or 30 dollars just because I went and ate out as opposed to eating at home. Even now, I still don’t really have groceries so I’m still munching on random food from the plaza. Now, some of the food in the plaza is decent and some of it just really sucks. However, a home-cooked meal will trump that anytime. Especially when you order a wrap that doesn’t explicitly say that it has cheese and then they put cheese in it. This really sucks when you have recently discovered that you are lactose intolerant. Late onset adult lactose intolerance sucks! I would know. Imagine, one day, you are happily eating ice cream, some nachos or something that contains lactose that you find delicious. After a couple hours your stomach hurts and you have no idea why. Now this persists for a few weeks and you don’t know why your stomach constantly hurts. It is a really crappy feeling. The worst part is when you forget you are lactose intolerant and you have that giant piece of ice cream cake or something and then the pain returns. You learn your lesson quite quickly, but then your friends torture you regularly because they forget you are lactose intolerant and say things like “Let’s go get ice cream,” or your roommate is sadistic and will threaten to lace your food with “copious amounts of milk”. Then you cry a little inside.
I enjoy cooking. It’s a nice way to get away from your homework and make something delicious to eat. It really is a life skill. The thing that always gets me is that I seem to be incapable of making just enough food for myself. If you ask my roommates, they will tell you that last week I made about five litres of chicken stock one time, which is still sitting in our freezer waiting to be used. Another thing I made too much of is congee. I made about eight litres of that. However, I live with three other guys so leftovers are never a big problem. By the way, congee is like Chinese oatmeal. It’s made of rice and lots of water, and then you add meat, mushrooms and other delicious things to it. Now this is incredibly filling, but you’ll be hungry within an hour.
My favourite thing to make is probably anything you can throw into a slow cooker, mainly because it will take you a few minutes to cut everything up and throw it into the pot. You can then come back in a few hours and everything is good to go and ready to eat. Just don’t forget to make rice. I’ve made coconut curry, congee and beef casserole all successfully. However, I will admit that slow cookers are often terribly hard to wash and controlling the amount you make is impossibly hard. It’s food though, so the more the merrier.
It is also quite impressive how long one can spend preparing a meal and how important plating and aesthetics is to cooking. People often compare cooking to an art or a science. You could also think of cooking as a combination of not only engineering, but art and science as well. You have to pick the right raw materials to make something delicious. You then have to control the amount of heat that you add to ensure the perfect amount of protein denaturation (that was probably the nerdiest thing I’ve ever said about cooking). I’ve never actually considered cooking that way. To be honest, I usually just put stuff together in a pan or a wok and hope for the best. However, I do actually consider the process and what to put in my dish when I’m trying to make something specific.
Now, it has recently been brought to my attention that the field of food engineering actually exists. It covers a surprisingly wide range of engineering disciplines and can be closely related to agricultural and chemical engineering. Food engineering addressing things like shelf life, packaging processes, food safety, mass transfer of foods, food storage and many other neat things. Now this isn’t what I was getting at when I first mentioned food and engineering, but it proves the point that engineering rules the world and that it can be applied to many different things.
As much as engineering is important, aesthetics and art play a huge role as well. I once watched a special on the Food Network about restaurants and the importance of lighting and ambiance. It was very interesting and they made the same meal for two different dinner sittings and they got completely different results. The first sitting had bad lighting, minimal decorations, poorly plated out food and a non-descriptive menu. The food got an average rating of about three or four. The second sitting featured ideally dimmed lighting, nice decor, well plated food and very detailed and descriptive menu. The food was cooked using the exact same method and nothing was different. This set of identical dishes got a rating of eight to nine. When asked in a survey, patrons also said that they would pay a significantly more for the second sitting. Isn’t it strange how the environment and what we perceive can play tricks on our brains? This is turn has an effect on our wallets.
So next time you go out to eat in a fancy restaurant, think about what you are paying for. Are you paying for the atmosphere or are you paying for the food and is it really worth those several extra dollars?