Ducking Thanksgiving Tradition

Thanksgiving is a bit of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it’s an opportunity to give thanks, to be with family and friends. On the other hand, it’s a holiday that’s loaded with stress and unrealistic expectations.

Specifically, I’m talking about cooking turkey. In my family, that foul fowl is single-handedly responsible for raising the household holiday stress levels to undue proportions every year.

First, we go through the same dance every year trying to buy a small bird. Every year, the store takes our order, then calls us a few days before Thanksgiving and says that the turkeys are in. Unfortunately, the smallest bird they have is double the size of what we ordered. This happens every freakin’ year.

Then we have to clear out space in the refrigerator to hold the giant bird, which is just about mathematically impossible, given that you have about quadruple the amount of groceries in your fridge for the rest of your dishes.

Next comes the cooking. For the past 10 years, I have been bestowed with the responsibility of roasting that wretched bird for my family. I’m a good cook, and I’m especially good at cooking meat. And yet, every year, I somehow manage to butcher the bird, and not in a good way.

I’ve tried roasting it, brining it, barbecuing it, butterflying it, and braising it. And somehow, I’ve never managed to cook a good turkey. (Actually, braising works great, but I only braise the dark meat, so you still have to figure out what to do with the white meat.)

There are two things I hate more than anything: undercooking meat and overcooking meat. My little sister says that whenever I undercook or overcook meat, a little black cloud forms over my head. Yes, yes it does. Fortunately, it only happens a few times a year. Unfortunately, it happens every November.

Finally, there’s the eating. Despite the adversity, the bird has always looked good. And it’s always tasted okay. But why settle for just okay? It’s Thanksgiving, for pete’s sake! It should be mind-numbingly delicious.

The truth is that none of us even like turkey. We ate it every year, because that’s what society expected us to do. Well this year, after once again ordering a 12-pound bird and hearing once again (after our order had already been taken) that only 20-pound birds were available, we finally said, “Enough!” We decided that we’d eat duck for Thanksgiving instead.

It was shocking to realize how liberating this decision was. First, we all love duck. I mean, really, who doesn’t? Duck is a magical animal — all dark meat and hauntingly beautiful fat and skin.

Second, we never cook it. I had never even touched a raw duck before. So cooking duck would be special, perfect for such a festive occasion.

Third, preparing duck is an order of magnitude easier than cooking a turkey. It’s small, meaning that it fits in the refrigerator and that it cooks quickly. It’s all fatty, dark meat, meaning that it’s hard to overcook. And duck actually tastes great medium rare, which means that it’s okay to undercook as well.

Fourth, the Pilgrims ate duck at the first Thanksgiving. So we were still being consistent with tradition.

Win, win, win, win.

Armed with J. Kenji López-Alt’s helpful guide to roasting duck, I decided to prepare two: a jerk-spiced duck and a Chimaya chile-coffee rubbed duck. I dried both ducks in the refrigerator for a day, then rubbed them and let them dry for another day.

We roasted the jerk-rubbed duck for Thanksgiving on a soda can so that the fat would render out. It took about 50 minutes to cook, and we let it rest for about 20 minutes. It was without question the most stress-free Thanksgiving ever. Cooking was a breeze. We all pitched in as usual, and we made plenty of delicious sides, but we didn’t have to do any extraordinary prep, nor did we have to get up at some ungodly hour in the morning.

As for the taste… well, did I mention that duck is a magical animal? This was unquestionably the best tasting Thanksgiving meal any of us had ever eaten. At one point, we were all eating in silent, focused concentration as we savored this delicious food. My dad, who is the most critical eater in our family, spent most of the meal with his eyes closed and a blissful smile on his face.

We actually thought that we would need the second duck for Thanksgiving, which was ludicrous. We barely had room to consume the first duck. We ate the second duck the day after, which was like having Thanksgiving two days in a row. It was as good as our first meal, only much easier to prepare, as all of the sides were already ready.

Furthermore, the ducks were gifts that kept on giving. We made sweet potato fries with duck fat (baked, not fried, so that we could pretend they were healthy), which made my dad smile even wider. We boiled the duck carcasses overnight to make a rich, meaty stock, then combined it with butternut squash, garlic, and habanero to make an unctuous soup. I was even able to restore the boiled duck meat from the carcass — which had been literally rendered dry and useless from the stock-making — with a little dollop of duck fat and salt. It had a pulled pork consistency and tasted like duck heaven.

So this year, I’d like to express deep, stomachfelt gratitude to one of the most wonderful animals in the world for restoring peace, harmony, and joyous food coma to my family this year. I hope other families can learn from our experience this year.

Tasting Exotic Foods Around the World

I like to travel, and I like to eat. Thanks to the pervasiveness of video cameras, I’ve been able to channel my inner Bourdain quite a bit over the years. Here are my tastings from the past year, including from my trip to Seattle last week.

Fried Kool-Aid

At the Fillmore Jazz Festival in San Francisco. Didn’t have to travel very far for this!

Wild Berries

Last July, I went trolling for wild berries with my friend, Ed, up in the Boundary Waters in Minnesota. We were definitely not experienced foragers, and we didn’t realize that tiny did not mean unripe (possibly missing out on the best strawberries ever as a result). Nevertheless, our search wasn’t entirely futile. First, we found a wild raspberry:

We later found tons of wild blueberries:

One of the recurring themes you’ll notice if you watch enough of these videos is that my commentary is often wrong. In this case, the blueberries absolutely were ripe; they were just miniscule.

Horse

My friends, Alex and Claudia, gave me a wonderful tour of Zurich when I was there a few months ago. During one of our many long conversations, they casually mentioned a funny story about some tourists who unintentionally ate horse at a nearby restaurant. “Horse?” I asked. “People eat horse here?” That predetermined our dinner destination for the evening:

It really does taste like beef… “but better,” as Alex would say. Alex’s commentary in this video is priceless. If you’re disturbed by the notion of eating horse, read these articles in GOOD, Slate, and the New York Times.

Shigoku Oysters

Tasting and providing commentary on Shigoku oysters at Taylor Shellfish Farms in Seattle:

These were wonderful — probably the best oysters I’ve ever tasted. Again, ignore what I said about plastic bags. They are indeed farmed in bags, but they are more permeable than plastic of course.

Geoduck

Also from Taylor in Seattle. I had actually eaten (and disliked) geoduck as a kid, but I had never had it so fresh, and certainly never raw:

Why I’ll Only Eat Naengmyeon In Korea

I was only in Seoul for two days, but I went out of my way to eat 냉면 (naengmyeon) while I was there. After having eaten it several times in Korea, I’ve basically stopped ordering it in restaurants here in the States. Once you’ve had a really good bowl, you can’t accept anything less.

Why is it so hard to make well? Consider 물냉면 (mul naengmyeon), the classic summer version of the dish. Imagine, if you will, a bowl of buckwheat noodles piled high in a cold broth, with a few slices of beef, cucumber, and Asian pear, all topped with a boiled egg.

Naengmyeon

Simple, right? And… well, simple. It probably sounds fine, but not particularly appealing.

The magic happens when you put some care into the noodles and the broth. The noodles are thinner and silkier than soba. Truly good noodles aren’t simply a vehicle for a broth; they actually taste like something. And of course, the right levels of chewiness and slurpiness are essential. As you can imagine, there’s a world of difference between homemade and dried noodles. As you also might guess, most restaurants don’t make their own noodles.

And then there’s the broth. Naengmyeon is a classic North Korean dish (mul naengmyeon is often called Pyongyang naengmyeon, after the North Korean capital). Given its origins, very few people actually know how to make the broth correctly. True mul naengmyeon uses a clear, rich stock made from beef and pheasant.

Naengmyeon is generally served with spicy mustard, rice vinegar, and sugar on the side. If the broth is good, the condiments are largely unnecessary — maybe a dash of mustard for heat and a tiny splash of the vinegar to accentuate the flavor. At most restaurants, the broth is so mediocre, the condiments serve as the flavor.

We ate mul naengmyeon at the original 강서면옥 (Kang Seo Myun Oak) in Seoul the day we arrived, just before setting off to Pohang. There’s actually a second restaurant in Los Angeles, but it’s nowhere near as good as the original. These folks are master craftsmen. You can taste the quality of the ingredients in everything they make, which is cooked perfectly.

How good is their naengmyeon? There’s food that tastes good, and then there’s food that feels good going down. Their naengmyeon was both. At most places, I leave some of the broth, partially because there’s so much of it, but mostly because it’s not that great. At Kang Seo Myun Oak, my bowl was absolutely clean afterward. I drank every last drop.

I also got to try something new — 한우소편육 (Hanu So Pyun Yuk), steamed, sliced beef shanks made from Korea’s native Hanu beef, which is often eaten with naengmyeon.

Hanu So Pyun Yuk

These were absolutely perfect — moist, tender, beefy. As with the naengmyeon, it felt good going down. There’s nowhere to hide with food like this. Your ingredients have to be great and your technique exquisite to pull it off.

After touring Gyeongsangbuk-do, we returned to Seoul, where I had chance to eat one more bowl of naengmyun. This time, we had 비빔냉면 (bibim naengmyeon) at the best bibim naengmyeon place in Seoul, bar none: 오장동흥남집 (Ojang Dong Heungnam Jib).

Bibim naengmyeon comes from Heungnam in North Korea, where seafood and sweet potatoes are plentiful. The noodles are made from sweet potato starch, and it’s often served with raw, marinated skate.

Ojang Dong Heungnam Jib is a family-owned restaurant founded in 1953. It’s in the neighborhood where my Mom grew up (Ojang Dong). It was her favorite naengmyeon place then, and it’s her favorite place now. It’s also my favorite naengmyeon place, not just because of sentiment, but because the food is so incredibly tasty.

Hwe Naengmyun

As with mul naengmyeon, most restaurants butcher this dish. Again, it starts with the noodles. The proprietors make their noodles from their own sweet potatoes, which they grow in Jejudo. The noodles are slimy, but firm, with just the right amount of chew. The spicy pepper sauce is just about perfect: substantial texture with a nice balance of spicy and sweet.

I finished my bowl in about six minutes, then spent the next ten minutes waxing poetically about how perfect everything was there. I badly wanted another bowl, but I decided to hold out so I could eat other meals later in the day. That was almost certainly my dumbest decision on the trip.

Damn it. I want a bowl right now.

BAR Camp 2005 Redux

Thoughts on BAR Camp. Yeah, yeah, a little late, I know. Less late than the rest of my Wikimania notes, though.    (JQX)

Many Hats    (JQY)

The most bizarre experience for me at BAR Camp was the number of people I knew from different worlds. My brain was constantly context-switching. It made me painfully aware of the number of different hats I wear, all in the name of Blue Oxen Associates.    (JQZ)

  • Purple Numbers guy.    (JR0)
  • Wiki geek.    (JR1)
  • Identity Commons contributor.    (JR2)
  • Doug Engelbart translator.    (JR3)
  • Usability guy!!! Obviously because of the sprints I’ve organized, but awkward for me, since I have no actual background in usability.    (JR4)
  • Pattern Language hat. I’ve been doing the collaboration Pattern Language dog-and-pony show the past few months, and some folks who’ve heard me speak on the subject were there. I’ll be doing a lot more of it too, so stay tuned. Patterns are damn important, useful, and interesting.    (JR5)
  • Facilitation / event organizer hat.    (JR6)
  • Nonprofit hat. The lack of nonprofit contingent was disappointing, but I had a good conversation with Ho John Lee, who’s done some great work in that space. (We were also both wearing our Korean hats, along with Min Jung Kim, a rarity at events like these.) I also met Phil Klein, a nonprofit guy who also participated in our usability sprint the following week.    (JR7)
  • Ex-DDJ hat. Some fogies, young and old, remembered me from my magazine days.    (JR8)

All this was testament both to my ADD and to the job Chris Messina, Andy Smith, and the other organizers did in only one week. Three hundred people walked through the doors over the weekend. Amazing.    (JR9)

Talks    (JRA)

The best part of the event was strengthening familiar ties and building new ones. I met lots of great people, including folks I’d only known on the ‘net. I wasn’t blown away by the talks for the most part, but some stood out.    (JRB)

  • Ka-Ping Yee did two talks, one on voting methods and another on phishing. Sadly, I only caught the tail end of the latter, but the Wiki page is fairly complete. I’ve never seen Ping do anything that I didn’t find interesting or, in many cases, profound, and these talks were no exception. (I’ll have more to say on Ping’s latest work in a later blog post.)    (JRC)
  • Xiong Changnian presented some interesting quantitative analysis of the Wikipedia community. I didn’t have as much of an opportunity to talk with Xiong as I’d like, but for those of you who have interacted with him, try not to be turned off by his bluster. He’s doing some good work, and he seems to mean well.    (JRD)
  • Rashmi Sinha and I did a roundtable on Open Source usability on the first night. Afterwards, we both agreed that we didn’t learn much new, but simply having the conversation and especially listening to a new audience was valuable. One unintended outcome: A participant (who shall remain nameless, but not unlinked!) complained about Socialtext‘s usability, which I dutifully reported on the Wiki. Adina Levin and Ross Mayfield quickly responded, saying they’re looking to hire a usability person. If you’re in the market, let them know.    (JRE)

I was so busy chatting with people, I also ended up missing a bunch of good talks: Rashmi’s tagging session, Rowan Nairn on structured data for the masses, and Tom Conrad‘s Pandora talk, which seemed to generate the most buzz at the camp.    (JRF)

Throwing Great Events    (JRG)

I toyed with the idea of doing a techie session, but in the end, the talk I should have done was one on patterns and throwing great events. BAR Camp was great, and as with all great collaborative events, there were some common patterns:    (JRH)

  • Food. One of the most critical and, amazingly, most overlooked element in an event. Lots of credit goes to Kitt Hodsden, who made sure there were enough snacks to feed a small country, and the sponsors, who kept the beer flowing and underwrote the party on Saturday night.    (JRI)
  • Introduce Yourself. The organizers borrowed the FOO Camp tradition of saying your name and three words to describe yourself, and they did it each day.    (JRJ)
  • Shared Display and Report Out. Folks did a great job of documenting on the Wiki and on their blogs and Flickr. BAR Camp owned the foobar Flickr fight.    (JRK)
  • Backchannel. I’m not a big fan of IRC at face-to-face events, and there were definitely times when I thought it detracted from the face-to-face interactions. But, it was there, and it was useful. It wasn’t logged, though.    (JRL)
  • Permission To Participate. Lots of Open Space techniques were present — again, borrowed from FOO Camp — like the butcher paper for scheduling sessions. Lots of this was also cultural, though. I think this is the hardest thing for folks who do not live in the Silicon Valley to get — the spirit of sharing that comes so naturally to folks here.    (JRM)

I’d do two things differently at the next event:    (JRN)

  • Incorporate a ritual for new attendees to make them feel welcome and to avoid clique-formation.    (JRO)
  • Add slightly more structure. Now that the organizers have done it once, they can use it as a template for the next event — for example, publishing the time slots ahead of time, and actually enforcing them, at least as far as room usage is concerned. Also, I like scheduled Report Out sessions.    (JRP)

In the postmortem, we talked a bit about what BAR Camp is supposed to be, and I really liked how Chris positioned it: As a model for organizing grassroots, free (or very cheap) alternatives to more expensive gatherings. I’m toying with the idea of incorporating BAR Camp-style alternatives to complement some non-free events I’m organizing.    (JRQ)

Patterns at WikiMania 2005

When I first met Christine Peterson (now a Blue Oxen Associates advisor), she told me the story about coining “Open Source.” The sign of a good name, she explained, is when people naturally start using it on their own. At a meeting of developers and evangelists in early 1998, rather than argue strongly in favor of the term, she introduced it subtly. Although the response wasn’t enthusiastic at the first, everyone in the room found themselves using the term, and by the end of the meeting, they all agreed to evangelize it.    (JMS)

Similarly, my strategy for introducing and identifying patterns of high-performance collaboration is to subversively introduce patterns into various communities and then to listen. If people naturally use a pattern in conversation, the name is probably good and the pattern itself is probably real and repeating. As people become familiar with the concept, they are more likely to identify and name other patterns. Over time, the language shifts your thinking, giving you a cognitive framework for thinking about, talking about, and improving collaboration and collaborative tools. Moreover, the process itself is iterative and collaborative, which is both the right way to develop Pattern Languages and also another application of collaborative patterns.    (JMT)

I’ve been giving some variation of a stock talk on patterns for over a year now, including last week at Wikimania 2005. It usually consists of a quick introduction, a few examples, and an interactive portion where I tease out patterns from the audience. The audience banter is always the best part. It’s always different, and it’s provided me with entertaining anecdotes, new patterns, and better pattern names.    (JMU)

Last week, I mentioned four patterns that Wikis facilitate: Permission To Participate, Shared Display, Visible Pulse, and Working Draft. Tim Starling followed my talk with an overview of Mediawiki development, and when he mentioned their IRC channel, he said, “This is our community’s Visible Pulse.” I love it when the process works!    (JMV)

The discussion teased out other patterns, especially Celebration and Initiation. (Linda Rising and Mary Lynn Manns mentions both of these in their book. They have a better name for the latter, but I don’t remember it off-hand.) One person told a great story about both. His team met for the first time in Australia, and before embarking on their project, they brewed beer that they planned on drinking after they finished their project.    (JMW)

Other patterns observed and not observed at the conference and within the community:    (JMX)

  • The Celebration at the end of the conference was great, but the Initiation wasn’t particularly remarkable. This isn’t unusual for conferences, where Initiation tends to be in the form of a keynote.    (JMY)
  • One pattern closely related to Initiation is Introductions. At conferences, this generally comes in the form of name badges, which we had at Wikimania. I think there’s a huge opportunity for further facilitating this pattern at conferences, which is something Blue Oxen Associates is working on. Hacking Days also would have been significantly more effective if we simply went around the room each day and quickly introduced ourselves. It’s one of those patterns that sound obvious when you hear about it, but is often forgotten when actually designing an event.    (JMZ)
  • Conferences usually do Water Cooler well, and Wikimania was no exception. We had long lunches, a party on the last night, an IRC channel, and some organized activities in Frankfurt am Main for stragglers following the conference. In particular, the organizers did two things really well. The Haus der Jugend was an excellent choice of venue, because it was an intimate space where social interaction was practically unavoidable. Most of the participants stayed at the hostel, which meant that there was always an interesting conversation to be had by simply going downstairs and hanging out in one of the common rooms. Plus, most of us who stayed there also had roommates, which is not typical for the conferences I attend. The restaurants and bars — touristy though they were — were in very close proximity, which made it easy to grab a beer and talk. (Food is a closely related pattern.) Finally, Hacking Days served as an unintentional Water Cooler, at least for those of us who were not Mediawiki developers. Coming early is something the organizers should encourage more widely next time.    (JN0)
  • I’m very biased towards highly interactive event design, and it seemed like it would have been especially appropriate for a Wiki conference. That said, the panel format worked better than at most conferences, and I think the Wiki culture of Permission To Participate had a lot to do with that. The audience interacted easily with the presenters at all of the talks I attended, and most of the speakers did a nice job of incorporating feedback into their presentations. One thing they did not do well was actively promote and integrate the conference Wiki as a place to take notes and have additional discussions. Again, this seemed surprising for a Wiki conference — yet another indication that making patterns explicit is a good thing.    (JN1)
  • Another favorite — also found in Linda and Mary Lynn’s book — is Spotlight On Others. This runs rampant throughout the Wikipedia community, which is wonderful. Tim cited me when mentioning Visible Pulse, and by the next morning, Sunir Shah had incorporated Permission To Participate into his talk on conflict resolution. I found this time and again in people’s talks. One reason it occurred so often during the conference is that the organizers used a Wiki to develop the program transparently. People watched other people’s talks develop and incorporated their content even before the conference began.    (JN2)
  • A critical pattern, especially for inter-organizational collaboration, is Neutral Space. Wikipedia would not have been successful if it did not have an open content license (which facilitates Neutral Space) and, to some extent, if it were a for-profit company. At the board panel on the last day, several people brought up the question of online ads. On the one hand, ads have the potential of bringing in a tremendous amount of revenue, which could be put to good use for the community. On the other hand, it breaks the Neutral Space pattern that has served Wikipedia so well. The community was more or less split on this issue. My vote: No ads!    (JN3)

One last pattern that I both observed and missed was Users Talk To Developers, a pattern I first described in, “An Introduction to Open Source Communities.” Previously, I criticized the Mediawiki developers for not practicing it enough. With the whole conference finally behind me, I want to both soften and and strengthen my statement.    (JN4)

Many of the Mediawiki developers came to the project as Wikipedia contributors. Brion Vibber, one of the leaders of the project, probably never would have joined had it not been for the Esperanto Wikipedia, of all things. After having more time to interact and observe the developers, I think that on average, community interaction is more prevalent among the Mediawiki developers than it is with many other projects.    (JN5)

That said, it’s still not nearly what it can and should be. During the sessions on politics and developing countries, several panelists complained that the tools had a way to go to meet their needs, and yet, none of the developers were attending their sessions. Hossein Derakhshan noted that techies are generally not interested in issues outside of their sphere.    (JN6)

Not all the blame falls on developers, however. As great as it would have been to see more developers abandoning the technical sessions in favor of the more social ones, it would have been fantastic to see more Wikipedia contributors attend some of the technical sesssions. Both communities need to learn and respect each other’s language if they truly want to engage collaboratively. Bridges are critical to make this work. Note that this applies not only to Mediawiki, but to all Open Source projects.    (JN7)