Ideapad recipes: tuna salad

This is not much of a recipe, as it goes, but I make a pretty mean Jewish-deli-style tuna salad. It’s easy, and yet it’s not.

There are many ways to make canned tuna fish into an enjoyable salad. My mother-in-law does hers up with relish and, we suspect, a dollop of sugar. Fairway makes a “healthy” tuna salad with soy-based mayonnaise and so rich in carrots that it skews the flavor profile, and in a good way. Mine is a bit more traditional, and not far off from what you’d get at, say, the Carnegie Deli on Seventh Avenue. (Although I’d have to make a lot more of it to make an equivalent sandwich.)

Ingredients:

  • One or more cans of solid white albacore tuna in water (I buy Bumble Bee)
  • A jar of mayonnaise (I buy Hellmann’s, and—shhh—I get the low fat kind; see below)
  • A stalk of celery

Open tuna cans, drain water, dump contents into a steel or glass mixing bowl. I used to squeeze and squeeze the water but it really doesn’t matter as the final product is so moist.

Mash up the tuna a good bit. I use a dinner fork for this and keep it pretty informal, although getting to small pieces is important. My mom, from whom I learned the basics of this recipe, used to dice the hell out of her tuna fish with a chopping knife, a 1970s, single-handed version of the thing they use at Chop’t to chop up salads nowadays, which served to eradicate most traces of fishiness (and therefore made it one of her son’s two go-to lunches, despite the fact that her son abhorred most fish until well into adulthood) but also took out some of the texture and corresponding flavor. I no longer opt not to go that far, although you certainly can. The Carnegie’s tuna looked knife-chopped to me last time I had it. Still, you want to break up the tuna well, because the interlacing of the ingredients—that squishiness you can actually hear—is what makes for great tuna salad.

Next, add the mayo. There are two tricks that come in handy here. The important one, and probably the whole point of this essay, is to use way more mayonnaise than you would ever suspect you’d find palatable. All those tiny pieces of tuna you created need to adhere to one another, and a generous apportionment of vinegar-oil-and-egg blend will be the defining characteristic of a great tuna salad. I start with one heaping tablespoon of mayo for every five or six ounces of tuna, and I wind up using twice as much, or more. Add a spoonful, mix it in with the fork, check its color and consistency, and add another blob. Not just add to taste, trust me, you’re going to want to keep going; I tend to stop too soon every time. You can actually listen for that squish in your fork as the tipping point into proper proportion. Did you stop adding mayo out of skepticism? Fear? Seriously, add more. The ideal amount home turns out to be about half a tablespoon more than you think.

The other mayonnaise trick, as mentioned in the ingredient list, is that unless you’re cooking up two batches side by side with different ingredients, reduced- and low-fat mayo tastes just as good as regular. (At least, Hellmann’s does.) So you can spare yourself some cholesterol to help your heart, and your conscience.

When the tuna and mayo are all set, it’s time for the celery. Celery is nice because it adds a great textural counterpoint to the sponginess of the tuna, and the flavor balance is excellent. Celery portioning is discretionary: I typically put in a quarter-stalk per can of tuna, diced into small but not minuscule pieces, but a bit more or less won’t impact things too much. Other ingredients can also be added at this time, like Fairway’s carrots, but I stick with just the celery. Mix in thoroughly.

Finally, chill the tuna salad, then serve. I am happiest with ice-cold tuna in sandwich form, with a half-sour pickle and potato chips and a cream soda as the ideal accompaniment. Good tuna salad is equally satisfying on almost any bread, from white to multi-grain to a baguette, though a Jewish-deli tuna salad preparation probably deserves Jewish bread: rye, pumpernickel, challah or a bagel. Eppes essen.

Ideapad recipes: chicken stir-fry

I cooked a perfect roasted turkey tonight! Which is noteworthy for many reasons, such as the fact that I hate touching raw poultry, I used the wrong kind of roasting pan, I’d never cooked a turkey of any kind before, and it wasn’t even supposed to be mine to cook. When my wife ran late I tackled the bird, and I have been marveling all evening at how easy it was to do well. I also whipped up some pretty tasty homemade stuffing.

I developed an interest in cooking fairly late in life. In my 20s, about the only time I cooked was to whip up some pasta and Perdue breaded chicken breasts in the minuscule kitchen of my minuscule walkup apartment. Now that I live in a four-person household, though, preparing and sharing a meal is fun, healthy and economical, and restaurant delivery has become a novelty rather than a routine.

For better or worse, when I cook, I like to make it interesting. If I’m going to all the effort, I’m going to have some fun along the way, trying new recipes and going all-in on ingredients and preparation. (See: homemade stuffing.) Having successfully banged out Thanksgiving dinner tonight, I’m thinking of posting my recipes and meals here as I go. They’re usually variations on top-five Google search results for whatever I’m looking into, but I invariably swap out an ingredient or two, too. I’ve been emailing successful recipes to myself and perhaps it will be more fruitful and entertaining to post my items publicly.

Of course, I have a handful of staples, one of which is a pretty basic and pretty tasty chicken stir-fry, which is easy to create while managing an active home, as you’ll see. I wrote this in 2010 but it was never published. It’s a good way to start this series.

Chicken Stir-Fry for the Modern Parent

To cook this dinner the way I cook it, first assume the appropriate mindset: consider yourself busy, tired, and sick of spending $35 on mediocre delivery for two, then layer onto that a spouse (partner, roommate, baby daddy, whatever) who shares the same busy-and-tired mindset, a blissfully unaware, curious and chipper 20-month-old boy, and a dog who begs like the hungriest panhandler you’ve ever passed in Union Square.

Now put yourself in the right physical scenario. It’s after-work-o’clock and the boy is running around the house, alternating between exploring things he shouldn’t and vying for your attention. The spouse isn’t home yet, but will be soon, and damn if you don’t want to eat dinner too late, since the kid wakes up at 7 in the morning and you both need to wind down early. So it’s time to cook while watching the kid.

I’ve found that a nice chicken stir-fry is low-impact enough to perform while juggling tasks, as it’s flavorful and reheats well, so you can cook a boatload of it in one shot and have leftovers for a day or two.

Start with rice. Any rice will do, really, so long as it’s not a cute seasoned thing, because your fine stir-fry will give you plenty of sodium to tinge the rice, but more on that later. Put up the pot, drop in your rice, listen for the boil, cover and simmer, giving a play-by-play to the tot, who repeats back every step. Once he can’t see the rice in the pot, the kid will lose interest and meander into the next room to play with trains and Elmo. Good enough.

Shortly after the rice is on, your spouse will arrive home, which is crucial, because she (or he) can assume some of the child-care duties, freeing you to wield a sharp knife without worrying as much about the tot. The dog, having picked up on the clatter and the scent of the rice, is now underfoot.

Get the chicken from the fridge, fresh organic breasts. Thin sliced is best. Don’t fall for the “chicken stir-fry” package, which conspicuously lacks the words “breast” and “white meat” and may not actually spell “chicken” correctly, like Krab brand imitation crab meat. You’re multitasking, but that doesn’t mean you’ve lost your sense of taste.

To prepare the chicken, you need a big bowl of Asian-style spiced liquid salt. In my house, Soy Vay is the seasoning of choice, mostly because of its awesome name. Any teriyaki or soy blend will do (not straight soy sauce, your blood pressure doesn’t need that, and it’s not all that flavorful). Throw maybe six ounces of sauce into the bowl, then cross-cut the chicken into smallish pieces or strips, larger than your fingernails and smaller than your index finger. Submerge all the chicken in the sauce and let it sit for a few minutes. If you want serious flavor, you’d do this the night before, or in the morning before work, but with the kid running around, who has that kind of time, or foresight? Fifteen minutes is enough to get things going.

Turn now to your cutting board and assemble whatever vegetables you have in the house. No doubt your fridge and freezer contain some combination of the following: celery, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, peas. Bean sprouts are probably good in this dish but lord do I hate bean sprouts so forget I even said that. Fish around your cabinet for a can of water chestnuts or bamboo, or both. If you have some sesame seeds or ginger, bonus! It’s almost real stir fry at that point. Put it all on the counter so you don’t forget an ingredient and sit down later wishing you’d remembered to toss in the bok choy.

Start chopping vegetables. There’s no necessary direction to this, not with all the activity around the house; the important thing is to make everything small enough to warm up quickly in the pan later. Thin sticks of carrot taste better than slices, though. Right around now, the dog is starting to love you again, because your vegetable prep is no doubt flinging things onto the floor, which Hoover down there is promptly taking care of.

Around this time, the kitchen will start smelling more like food, too, which draws in the toddler–nonono, don’t touch the stove, it’s hot. Yeah, “toooove.” And that’s chicken over there. Say “chicken.” Want to help Daddy cook? No? Smart, little guy. Let’s go get a book and keep you busy.

Back to business. Get a large pan warmed up over a medium-high flame. When it’s nice and hot, drop in the chicken, with a liberal helping of the Soy Vay or such, which is going to do double-duty on the veggies, so don’t be afraid to over-season at this moment. Let everything simmer for a few minutes, adding water as necessary to avoid char, and as the chicken turns white, flip it to cook the other side.

Once the chicken is on side two, give it a couple of minutes, then drop in any frozen vegetables. Wait long enough so that they don’t overcook, but not too long, because the frozen guys need a head start on the fresh ones. Right around now, your rice is probably done; turn off its burner and enter “let sit five minutes” mode, which you probably never do, I know I don’t, and the rice really is tastier when you do it, so consider your good fortune.

Return to the chicken. By now it should be mostly cooked through; the thinner your thin-sliced chicken, the faster you get out of salmonella range. When you hit “okay, I’m going to give the chicken two more minutes” time, drop in all the fresh vegetables. I like to make a little show for myself, putting them in one color at a time from separate glass bowls, but really, no one’s watching, except probably the toddler, who has no clue about food presentation, so just go for it. Mix up everything well so all the vegetables are in contact with the sauce, then usher the kid back out of the kitchen again, because we are deep in splattering-boiling-soy mode, and you don’t want to get that on your own skin, much less the baby’s, although the dog doesn’t give a damn, so long as you drop some more food on the ground before you’re done.

That about does it for the chicken. Cut through a piece to test for preparedness; that’s the beauty of stir-fry, you can just slice that piece in half without the ignominy of being That Guy Who Has to Cut into His Chicken to See if It’s Ready. With any luck, the chicken is cooked through within two or three minutes of dropping in the fresh vegetables, because their flavor is much more intense and healthy if they don’t sautee too long.

Turn off the stove and you’re ready to serve. Dole out the rice first and put the stir fry right on top, since that’s how the rice tastes best. Show the toddler your work and hope he doesn’t get all jealous and ask to eat dinner again. Toss something on the floor for the dog and call in your spouse for dinner. As my kid would say, “mmmMMMmmm.”

Pro tip: because you had very little time to marinate your chicken before cooking, this dish actually tastes a little better the next day, after the soy’s had a night to soak into everything. I usually cook a pound-plus of chicken and a good amount of vegetables and leave myself at least one serving for tomorrow. Because the last thing you want is to do this two nights in a row.

How industry consolidation affects you: beer

Beer! Microbrew this and craft-brew that, how can beer be victim to consolidation?

The business of hops, yeast and malt is still fairly unconsolidated, but it has come together rather strongly in the past decade, to the point where the most famous American beer brands are all owned by foreigners. Anheuser-Busch InBev is the world’s largest beer manufacturer, with 21% of global sales. Don’t let the storied names out of St. Louis fool you; AB InBev is a Belgian-Brazilian company headquartered in Brussels.

In second place is SABMiller, founded in South Africa, headquartered in London, and owner of the Miller-Coors brands that hearken back to the Colorado Rockies. SABMiller sells roughly 44 billion pints of beer each year. SABMiller just made an offer to buy Heineken, a brewing conglomerate of similar size, which the Dutch company has so far rejected; should a deal go through, the combined firm would also control 21% of the beer market. The Economist also suggests that InBev may just buy SABMiller, creating a behemoth with combined production of nearly 600 million hectolitres (or, in practical terms, 125 billion pints) of beer per year.

Despite this consolidation, local and regional brewing continues to thrive. From mid-size producers like Sam Adams and Brooklyn to do-it-youself brewpubs, a wide variety of beers exist alongside the majors—some 3000 commercial entities in all, ensuring some diversity in a consolidating field.

This is the latest in a series of summaries of industries whose corporate consolidation has led to a small number of players controlling the majority of a sector, creating oligopolies in the mass market. Previously

What the watch industry is missing

I’ve been following the Watch reaction since its unveiling last week, and I keep coming back to the short-sightedness of the luxury watchmakers’ reaction.

Mostly, the watch industry has been complimentary, in its way, of the Apple Watch. They are right to compartmentalize it as fundamentally different from their products, and to appreciate it on its own level. Sample quote: “I do not believe it poses any threat to haute horology manufactures, I do think the Apple Watch will be a big problem for low-priced quartz watches, and even some entry-level mechanical watches.” (Monday Note has a good roundup.)

But here’s the thing: anyone who buys an Apple Watch is going to stop buying other watches, regardless of price point.

I keep thinking about my own use case. I’ve been a daily watch wearer since elementary school. I wear a watch with a great degree of pride, as the accessory I rely on. My watches are carefully chosen, and whether an inexpensive Swatch, an oversized Nixon or a finely crafted Breitling, they are a fixture in my life.

Of course, I’m also a daily Apple user, and an early adopter of their products. I own the first-generation iPod, the first iPhone, the first iPad. I undoubtedly will buy the Watch, even though I’m not a rabid message-sender, even though I’m not a jogger, even though I’m not yet 100% certain where the new device journey will lead me. It’s a new Apple gadget and it’s a watch—I’m powerless to resist.

And once I have the Watch, I’m going to wear it regularly. I will tinker with it, find its ideal use cases, answer a thousand questions about it, be proud of it as I was my other first-gen Apple products and every one of my watches. As with the iPhone, I expect it to become part of my daily routine.

And once I’m doing that, well, my other watches don’t stand a chance. Because as the Watch assimilates itself to my life’s rhythms (or, perhaps, vice versa), not wearing the Apple Watch will feel like something’s missing. The vibrations and alerts and shortcuts that aren’t offered by my quartz Zodiac will be glaring omissions. Before long, I’ll be strapping on the Watch every day, just as I put my iPhone in my pocket.

If the Watch works for me, my workaday watches will slowly get relegated to my nightstand drawer, and future watch purchases will shift from investing in the next object of beauty and personal expression to saving a few bucks for Watch 2. And Apple will then own a thirty-year habit of mine, just like they came to own my music and phone habits, too.

Frankly, I’m not even sure I’m happy about this. But I’m going for it. I expect millions of folks like me will, too, and when they do, the disruption to the watch industry will not be pretty.

What I did this summer

It’s been quiet around here because I spent July recovering from my concussion and August catching up from a month of not working full speed.

That said, everything is great! I came out of the trauma fog in time to find lots of fun this summer, including a full 11 days of vacation, which I’d travelblog in this space in detail had we not basically repeated our trip from 2006 to great satisfaction. Shorthand version: Cape Ann; Bass Rocks Ocean Inn; Roy Moore Lobster Co.; Martha’s Vineyard; incredible car ferry reservation luck; Atria and Among the Flowers; Larry David’s ex-wife; ball in the yard with my two growing sons; beaches, starry nights, bunny rabbits, grasshoppers, jellyfish, three-year-olds eating salads, six-year-olds reading 200-page books in one day, an outdoor shower, a flat tire, two more trips to the local playground than we’d made in our previous nine Massachusetts vacations, and a single fish caught with a kids’ rod and reel for the second straight year. Oh, and lots and lots of ice cream. More like this, please.

It happens too fast

Internet pioneer Eric Meyer and his family suffered a heartbreaking loss this weekend as Eric’s daughter Rebecca passed away of a brain tumor on her sixth birthday.

An early blogger, Eric harnessed the power of personal publishing for his catharsis, and in the process, he brought our entire community into his heart. I invite you to read about Rebecca (starting from last August, when Eric first posted about her tumor) and follow Eric on Twitter as well.

Then hug your kids, and spoil them a little, because life is too short, and surely they deserve it.

As all tragedies can have uplifting consequences, in recent weeks my world has been tinted for the better by Eric’s experiences, which serve as a reminder of the wonderfulness of childhood and a way to keep perspective as we collectively grieve for Eric’s loss.

This morning my six-year-old and I watched another parent deliver an aggressive, top-of-her-lungs rebuke to her child for a moment of forgetfulness. When she finished, she apologized—to the other adults. “That mom is really mad,” my son said to me quietly, eyes wide. I could only sigh. Life is too precious, our children too innocent, the world too cruel.

My three-year-old is off to his first “camp” experience later this month. All the children have to wear the same shirt every day. At orientation, the camp director told us, firmly and pleasantly: “If your child doesn’t want to wear the camp shirt, seriously—don’t force it. Your time with your child is too valuable to argue over what to wear. Just bring it and we’ll put it on later.”

Your time with your child is too valuable. We could append almost anything to that sentence, couldn’t we? I think about how I may chide my kids over relatively minor issues, and then I think about Rebecca Meyer, ten days younger than my own kindergartener, and it strengthens my resolve to make their lives as full of kindness and affection as my heart can find. The things we worry about pale in comparison to the issues most of us are fortunate not to confront.

Eric, my deepest condolences go out to you once more, as well as a note of thanks, for sharing your stories and a bit of your soul.

Truth in advertising: New England Patriots Jersey Guarantee

The New England Patriots got some favorable press today, including a front-page link on ESPN.com, for their new “jersey guarantee.”

Under the terms of the guarantee, if a jersey is purchased of a Pats player who departs the team within 12 months of purchase, the customer is entitled to a new jersey at a 25 percent discount.

Generous? Not so much. Clothing markup is typically 40-50% from wholesale; that $100 jersey costs the Patriots $50-60 to procure. So at a 25% discount, the replacement jersey is in all likelihood still sold at a profit.

The Patriots aren’t accepting product returns or giving refunds. They’re offering a well targeted coupon code. The only certainty from this promo is that the Pats have a new path to selling more jerseys and making more money. Some guarantee.

Progress

At Columbia University, the Columbia Daily Spectator has decided to stop printing a daily physical edition, opting for a weekly paper and daily postings online.

This follows announcements from magazines like New York to reduce their publication schedules, but because it’s a college paper, this one strikes close to home. In 1994-95 I was editor in chief of Franklin & Marshall’s The College Reporter, and I spent many a late night finalizing galleys and eliminating serial commas before driving, often at 3 a.m., from Lancaster, Pa., up to Ephrata, 25 minutes to the northeast, to slide our glue-sticked and blue-penciled newspaper-to-be through a very wide mail slot at the printer, so that the paper could be printed and distributed on time Monday afternoon.

It’s been years since I saw the Reporter at any length. I enjoyed for several years receiving the newspaper mailed to me as editor emeritus, although that policy died out after awhile, and the paper somehow failed several times to establish a proper digital presence. (It seems to finally have an up-to-date website, although the content made me double-check that it wasn’t a parody.) I imagine readership on campus at F&M had a similarly parallel experience. The school will eventually, like Columbia, turn the print edition into an anachronism, and ultimately a dead product. Columbia’s weekly paper won’t last very long either.

I love my printed media. I love carrying The Economist folded lengthwise in my coat pocket onto an airplane; I love flipping through the heft of the New York Times on a weekend morning and perusing its daily sections on the subway; I love reading Car and Driver on the can. But I’m also a digital native, having been online since the 1980s, and I love that, too.

And so does everyone else. The benefits of digital publishing are incontrovertible. The world has already made up its mind, and it’s just waiting for the stragglers to let go of the past. When I bring the Times on my morning commute, I am almost always the only person reading a printed newspaper on the train, and if there’s another paper in my car, it’s a freebie handed out on the subway steps, wire stories and local advertising for the bored. The days of learning the accordion fold are over.

So farewell, Columbia Daily Spectator, and farewell, weekly New York, and farewell, eventually, to the rest of the printed periodicals that have brightened my life for 35 years. You will be missed. And you won’t, too.

Communicating value to customers

Southwest Airlines has been running an ad during the NCAA basketball tournament that touts its frugal ways. The ad is transparent, honest and pragmatic.

“You save money dealing directly with us,” the voiceover says of its website, and “we save money dealing directly with you.”

From there, the ad touts its low airfares—see? See?—as a clean extension of the value proposition behind the company.

I love this commercial for its win-win approach. Southwest is calling out on national television that they’re not playing games. If you work with us, they say, it costs us less, and in turn, we’ll help you spend less, too. In today’s savvy shopping environment, it’s great to see a brand talk frankly about minding costs and passing savings onto customers.

Compare this with the sign I see in the building cafeteria when I’m in my New Jersey office. It covers the front of every napkin dispenser they have.

napkins

“When our costs rise,” it says, in bold red type, “Your [sic] prices rise.”

This little sign could be a win-win, like Southwest’s ad. But it’s not. It’s antagonistic. It’s a threat. There’s no mutual benefit, no collaboration, just a warning. Waste our money, and we’ll take it right out of your pocket, bucko.

It helps that the cafeteria is the only place to grab lunch without a decent walk. They have a bit of a monopoly, and it shows: the food is somewhat expensive, the cooks refuse to go off-script, and certain stations randomly don’t open some days. All of which mirrors the attitude on the napkin dispensers. Don’t mess with me, eater. I’m all you’ve got.

The cafeteria misses an opportunity to create customer loyalty that could have been communicated simply and effectively. How much better would the napkin dispenser make customers feel if it said, “Keeping costs down keeps your lunch prices down,” instead of going toe-to-toe with diners?

How industry consolidation affects you: eyeglasses

Luxottica is in the news in the digital realm right now for its forthcoming collaboration with Google on Glass-wear.

Google went straight to the top on this one, as Luxottica is by far the industry leader in eyewear. The company makes eyewear under 27 different brand names, for both its own brands, such as Ray-Ban and Oakley, and a variety of high-profile licensees like Chanel and Prada.

Luxottica has the market pretty well covered on the retail side, too: if you’ve ever set foot in a Lenscrafters, Pearle Vision or Sunglass Hut, you’re on their turf. The company also takes care of the eyeglasses at Sears and Target, among others.

In total, Luxottica has roughly 80% of the major eyewear brands under its control. Main competitor Safilo has an impressive portfolio of licensing partners but a much smaller footprint and fewer known in-house brands.

Me, I’ve been wearing American-made Bevel glasses of late, and independent ic! berlins before that. But it’s interesting to know that when I made a big switch a number of years ago from Oliver Peoples to Paul Smith, I wasn’t really changing much of anything.

This is the latest in a series of summaries of industries whose corporate consolidation has led to a small number of players controlling the majority of a sector, creating oligopolies in the mass market. Previously