Why I became a Wikipedia contributor (and why you should, too)

Wikipedia is a part of everyday life for most everyone who uses the web. I personally cross-reference or poke around Wikipedia almost every day—93 times in the past 30 days alone, per my browser history. Millions of people are similar to me, if not more so.

Having become something of an institution, Wikipedia now faces a long-term struggle for its fiscal and editorial health. Most immediate is the need for cash flow. Wikipedia’s frequent pledge drives on its website do a good job of highlighting the organization’s monetary needs (and plenty of readers, thankfully, are listening).

More easily overlooked is its slowly dwindling volunteer workforce, the thousands of people who keep Wikipedia updated and objective.

Active editors on Wikipedia, from The EconomistWikipedia is only as strong as its contributors and editors, a team that peaked several years ago. The Economist did a great deep-dive into Wikipedia’s state of affairs this spring. It pointed out that the number of English-language editors on the site has dropped steadily for nearly a decade, to 30,000 volunteers this year, down from 50,000 in its heyday. That sounds like a big staff, but with nearly two billion pages to curate, and an almost entirely unpaid team, the math quickly gets sour.

Right around the time of the Economist article, I found myself disgruntled at yet another article speaking in the present tense about 2011. So, after a decade of lurking and leeching, I signed up for a Wikipedia account. And when I see a line like, “The band is slated to appear on the first week of Jimmy Fallon’s new talk show,” my annoyance now turns to utility, as I am empowered to fix that sentence, and a tiny bit responsible, too. As a longtime writer, editor and grammar hound it’s a no-brainer for me to pitch in.

I’ve only updated a handful of articles thus far, but I am quick to hit the Edit button when I see outdated or inaccurate text, most recently this morning, updating the status of a canceled program. Making updates to Wikipedia is easy, it’s satisfying, and it ensures that the site will continue to be a useful resource.

Wikipedia, of course, has been running on this model since its inception. But too many people, like me, take the labor behind the site for granted. My own contribution ultimately will be small, but it will be a contribution nonetheless.

Please consider doing the same. Even occasional edits help keep the world’s encyclopedia appropriately encyclopedic.

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.