You Will Like These, Sam I Am

Hello and welcome to Week 12! With Easter right around the corner, I thought that this would be a great time to cover off some life hacks related to eggs.

This week’s post will help you decide what to do with those vividly-colored eggs crowding your fridge come Easter Monday. After all, you can only eat so many egg salad sandwiches. What do you do with them? You make pickled eggs.

On the Counters of Small-Town Bars Everywhere
Okay now, I can hear what your inner voice is saying right at this very moment: “Pickled eggs??? Is she kidding me? Yecch!” And you know what? For the first thirty-odd years of my life, I would have been right in there with you. I’d seen pickled eggs – floating around in a big jar in every small-town bar I’d ever been in, looking like some kind of aquarium experiment gone horribly wrong. But I’d never actually tasted one, until someone offered me a pickled egg as an appetizer at a semi-upscale dinner party.

Since there was no polite way to refuse, I tried it. And was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it. They have the tangy taste of vinegar and none of the weird sulfuric aroma I’d expected. Not long after that, I learned to make them myself.

What? No Recipe?
To my surprise, I couldn’t find a single cookbook in my home library this week that had a pickled egg recipe. But that’s minor, since I have my own. It’s an adaptation of one that came to me by way of the Okanagan Landing Volunteer Fire Department and I’ve been using it for the last ten years.

The Most Comprehensive Cookbook. Ever.
I don’t know if I’ve convinced you to try this particular life hack yet, but let’s start at the beginning. Even if you don’t try making pickled eggs, you’re still going to leave this week’s post with valuable knowledge. First, we’ll learn how to make perfect hard boiled eggs.

The place to find this priceless secret is on page 122 of “The New Best Recipe”. If you’ve never seen this cookbook, it’s worth a stroll to your home library just to check it out. “The New Best Recipe” is the most comprehensive book on cooking I’ve ever seen (with the possible exception of “Larousse Gastronomique”, which is the great-grandad of them all.)

“The New Best Recipe” was compiled by the staff of “Cooks Illustrated” magazine, who obsessively test versions and methods of classic American recipes until they are certain that they have found the very best recipe and the very best method. And they’re not fooling around — this cookbook is more than 1000 pages long. It’s a go-to resource for cooking pretty much anything.

So, of course this is where you’d look for the foolproof way to make (and peel) hard-boiled eggs. For pickling, it’s important that you boil them long enough that the yolks are firm — but not so long that they turn gray.

Fast-Forward to a Fridge Full of Eggs
So here we are on Easter Monday. You made a dozen perfect hard-boiled eggs, the kids turned them into a psychedelic rainbow of colors, they’ve been hidden, found again and now they’re in the fridge. What next?

First, peel a dozen eggs, following the instructions in “The New Best Recipe”. This is a nice touch — a well-peeled egg is more appetizing than one that looks like it’s been in a knife fight. Then combine these ingredients in a non-reactive pan:

  • 2 cups of vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pickling salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon mustard seed
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 dried chili peppers

Open a window in the kitchen and boil this mixture for 5 minutes. Fill a 1-liter canning jar with boiling water, dump it out again (this will sterilize it) and put in the eggs. Fill it to the top with the vinegar & spice mixture, ensuring all the spices get into the jar. Let it cool, put a lid on it and pop it into the fridge. Wait 5 days to sample your eggs, and eat them up within 30 days.

Don’t Be a Chicken
So … ready to try this out? Oh go on, take a risk! I can almost guarantee that you won’t be sorry. Pickled eggs are fabulous on seed bread and while I don’t have scientific proof to back me up, I’m pretty sure the homemade version has way less sodium than commercial ones (340 mg each), which makes them a reasonably healthy high-protein snack.

The Numbers
You can make a batch of a dozen pickled eggs for about $4.93. (Buy the spices in the bulk section, and you’ll spend about 25 cents per batch.) By comparison, store-bought pickled eggs are a whopping $9.49 a dozen. Your homemade ones are half the price and a lot better for you.

“The New Best Recipe” is $24.44 at amazon.ca and $25.73 at chapters.indigo.ca. That’s an average of $25.09 saved by borrowing the book, plus $4.56 saved on every batch of pickled eggs you make. Together, that brings this week’s Library Life Hack savings to a total of $29.65. Cha-ching!

Resources

The New Best Recipe
Written by the Editors of Cooks Illustrated
Published by Best Recipe Series
Released Nov 17, 2004
ISBN 0936184744

Check-Back
This past week, I also tried out the first of several productivity hacks, as outlined in “The 4-Hour Workweek”. You can find the interesting results here.

And that’s it! Next week, we’re going well off the beaten path, as I take a crash course in writing poetry with American Children’s Poet Laureate Jack Pretlusky. Happy Easter!

P.S. About that sweater from Week 8. I didn’t pick up the sticks this week. A reader has suggested this as the solution. I think maybe she’s onto something.

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The 4-Hour Workweek: Fact, Fiction or Fantasy?

Hey, hey, hey! It’s Week 11 here at Library Life Hack and we’re going to talk about some extreme productivity hacking, courtesy of one of the first books to seriously tackle this topic: “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Timothy Ferriss.

Timothy Ferriss is a 35-year-old American business and lifestyle writer. “4-Hour Workweek” came out in 2007 and was an enormous success, especially considering the fact that he was a completely unknown author. The book became a New York Times #1 bestseller and remained on the Times’ bestseller list for four years. Since then, he’s published two additional books: “The 4-Hour Body” and “The 4-Hour Chef” (which we took a look at in Week 9.)

“4-Hour Workweek” met with wildly contrasting reviews. Some people thought he was brilliant, some thought he was crazy, and many were convinced he was lying (you can find an especially scathing post on the blog of career writer Penelope Trunk). But … most everyone sat up and took notice of him. I’ve wanted to read this book for quite a while, and I challenged myself to try bombing through it in a workweek.

And?
Well, for starters, I can easily see why it was so successful. Even though it’s 297 pages, it’s a remarkably easy and engaging read. Timothy Ferriss is a very compelling story teller. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. The ability to tell a good story is a rare – and extremely powerful – skill. The storytelling is coupled with the ability to lay out big ideas in a simple way and make the reader believe that he or she is perfectly capable of replicating the business success described by Ferriss.

It’s also highly action-oriented. Each chapter has questions to ask yourself, action steps and challenges. In this way, it’s more of a workbook than a book.

Forty to Four
If you want a four-hour workweek, Timothy Ferriss believes that there are two paths to follow:

  • Become an entrepreneur. Find an easy-to-manufacture product that can be sold for a significant markup, develop solid marketing and once your sales are established, completely automate the business so that you don’t have to be onsite.
  • If you don’t want to become an entrepreneur, hone your productivity in the office to razor-sharpness and then negotiate a remote working arrangement. Once that’s established, take yourself and your arrangement out of the country and start living large.

Simple Enough. And Yet…
I do believe that the four-hour workweek is perfectly achievable for a disciplined entrepreneur, although I think that it’s realistically preceded by a lot of workweeks that are about 20 times that long.

But I’m not 100% convinced that those of us who are employees can whittle our workweeks down that low without raising some serious eyebrows in our offices (or just inviting additional work to appear, in order to fill in that unsightly gap.)

But He’s Not Completely Crazy
Can you effectively work from another country? And would it be fun? I have a tiny bit of experience here. Three years ago, I went on a two-week holiday to England. The day before we were leaving, a volcano in Iceland blew its top and grounded all air travel in Europe. My fourteen-day vacation started to stretch. And stretch. And stretch.

When it began to look like I’d be there past the three-week mark, I started emailing my office back in Canada to see if there was anything urgent that needed my attention. There were a few things, and I began spending about two hours a day in the local internet café. In many ways, it was quite pleasant. Since I was paying for internet time by the hour, I got right down to business and got my work done quickly. And the rest of the day could be spent guilt-free in the pub, or shopping, or doing whatever I wanted.

So Why Not Give It a Try?
We’ve tried out all kinds of other things here at Library Life Hack. So why not some of Timothy Ferriss’ productivity techniques? And some of the other challenges? (Although I’m balking – just a little — at the one that involves telephoning celebrities.)

I started yesterday with his hack for handling email. This involves answering email twice a day, in a batch, at noon and 4 pm. It’s … interesting. We’ll do a check-back next week so I can tell you how it went.

The Numbers
In the meantime, let’s look at the numbers for this week. I haven’t figured out exactly how you put a value on the time savings involved in the Timothy Ferriss productivity hacks. Maybe that will come to me as I work through them. The book sells for $17.78 on chapters.indigo.ca and $16.89 on amazon.ca. That averages out to $17.34 saved by using your library card.

Here are the details on the book:

The 4-Hour Workweek
Written by Timothy Ferriss
Published by Harmony
Released December 15, 2009
ISBN 0307465357

And that’s it for this week. Have you read “The 4-Hour Workweek”? Have you tried out any of Timothy Ferriss’ ideas? If you have, drop me a line at LibraryLifehack [at] gmail.com. I’m especially curious to see if these ideas are appealing to anyone over the age of 30. Next week, we’re going to … you know, I don’t actually know what we’re going to do. So it’ll be a surprise for both of us! In the meantime, have a great week!

P.S. Update on Week 8’s sweater: I’m still knitting. : )

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“He who has a head of butter should not go near the oven”

Hello and welcome to Week 10! Our title this week borrows the wise words of an old Dutch proverb. I couldn’t find any kind of translation, but I assume it’s probably something like “don’t push your luck”. Let me add that if your head is made of butter, you probably shouldn’t go to hot yoga either.

As you’ve likely already guessed, this week’s life hack is handmade butter, as suggested by one of my colleagues, who thought it would be the ideal accompaniment for the homemade bread we were experimenting with a few weeks ago.

Less Clutter, More Butter
Making your own butter is dirt simple, and can be done with a mixer, or simply with a jar that has a screw-on lid. (I went with Option B, as the total lack of additional equipment made it closer to the true spirit of life hacking.)

My instructions for handmade butter came from Karen Solomon’s “Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It”, which we also featured in last week’s blog post on beef jerky. You simply pour heavy cream into the jar, screw on the lid and shake it for about 30 minutes.

Shake Your Butter — and Your Booty
It seemed to me that this activity was an ideal candidate for a little bit of fitness-oriented multi-tasking. So I made up a playlist of old 80’s disco songs and had a little kitchen dance party with my butter. It worked well. I was so enthusiastic that my first two cups of cream had turned into butter in a mere 12 minutes! Here’s the playlist if you want to try this for yourself:

Song Artist
Midnight Radio Taffy
Express Yourself Madonna
Two Tribes Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Only in My Dreams Debbie Gibson
Don’t Leave Me This Way The Communards
Suspicious Minds Fine Young Cannibals
Hot Hot Hot Buster Poindexter
Walking on Sunshine Katrina & The Waves
White China Ultravox
Oblivious Aztec Camera
Two Princes The Spin Doctors

Now, the irony of making butter (which is essentially pure fat) and calling it a fitness activity is not lost on me. But it was pretty fun.

Taking It to the Streets
I ran a taste test with my colleagues the next day. I filled one dish with the handmade butter (which I’d lightly salted) and one dish with store-bought. Then I asked them if they could notice a difference, and if they preferred one over the other.

The results were fascinating. The store-bought butter actually won the taste test by a 100% margin. (Apparently, we Canadians really like our salt.) But what also intrigued me was watching my colleagues investigate the butter before they chose. They were trying really hard to figure out which was which before they made a decision, and several of them were quite dismayed when they found out that they’d voted for the grocery store butter. Although totally unscientific, it was an interesting commentary on the psychology of our relationship with food.

The Numbers
As it turns outs, it is NOT cheaper to make your own butter. To keep us on a level playing field, I used the same brand of cream and butter. One liter of Lucerne whipping cream is $4.97 and produced 383 grams of butter. At that ratio, a pound of handmade butter would cost $5.89. However, a pound of Lucerne butter is only $3.97.

There are lots of reasons why I would opt to make my own butter, but clearly saving money isn’t one of them. Taste, however is. In real life, I would add a little more salt to homemade butter, and I do think it tasted much fresher than the store version. If you check out page 77 of “Jam It,Pickle It, Cure It”, you’ll also find three recipes for flavoured butters that sound scrumptious. Given that it only takes 12 minutes of effort, I’d definitely try making my own butter again.

Finally, since I’ve already used “Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It” in a previous blog post, I don’t really feel that it’s ethical to add it to the running total again. So … it’s an unusual week here at Library Life Hack – no savings to add to the pile, just the typical ratio of fun and learning.

Check-Back
Before we close out this week’s post, it’s also time to check in on our stock market portfolio from Week 1. The stocks continue to do well – if I were holding this portfolio in real life, I’d be cautiously pleased at this point in the year. You can see the results for yourself on the Check-Back page.

Back to Work
Next week, we’re leaving the kitchen and taking a trip into the working world, as we investigate the writing of Timothy Ferriss, and his ground-breaking book “The 4-Hour Workweek”. Remember, if your head is made of butter, stay away from ovens. (And if your head really is made of butter, drop me a line at LibraryLifeHack [at] gmail.com. I’d like to see that.) Have a great week!

P.S. Update on Week 8’s sweater project: I’m still knitting. I think that’s all I should say right now.

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Jerk de Soleil

Hello and welcome to Week 9! For the next couple of weeks, new blog posts will appear on Saturdays, while I write some exams.

I’ve been getting all kinds of hack requests from my co-workers, and I thought I’d publish the list, so that you can see what you may be in for in the coming weeks:

  • Change the oil in my car (by myself, not by taking it to a mechanic)
  • Build a shampoo that works for someone who has to endure winter on the prairies (If you’ve ever lived through a Canadian prairie winter – and have hair — you know exactly what this is about)
  • Butter
  • Jam (both of these came on the heels of the make-your-own-bread post)
  • Covering an old tabletop with leather
  • Hair hacks for those with difficult-to-manage curls
  • Making your own corn tortillas

This week, we’re taking a look at beef jerky, at the request of reader Stackë Peaumonde. Stackë and his wife are avid hikers, who like to take beef jerky on longer day trips as a lightweight snack. He wrote in, looking to see if there was a way to make your own good-tasting beef jerky without the added cost of a dehydrator.

A Precise and Complicated Plan
I’m happy to report that there are plenty of recipes and methods for this particular life hack. I found four helpful books, whittled down to four recipes and then whittled those down to two: one very simple and one a little more complicated. The simple one came from Karen Solomon’s “Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It” and the more complicated one from “Four-Hour Chef” by lifestyle guru Timothy Ferriss. Both of these are fascinating books, but we’ll talk about that a little later.

Karen Solomon’s recipe has soy sauce, garlic and brown sugar, which seems to be the base for all beef jerky recipes, plus optional chili flakes and cracked black pepper (which I added). The Timothy Ferriss recipe included the basics plus onion, teriyaki sauce, molasses, liquid smoke and sesame seeds.

Both recipes called for flank steak, which you freeze slightly and then trim into 1” strips, removing ALL the fat (which can go rancid). I came home from Costco with a couple of pounds of beautiful flank steak but realized I was in trouble when I started to cut it up. Like good Alberta AAA beef, it was marbled with fat throughout. I COULD have removed it all, but it would have taken hours and I’d be left with an enormous pile of skinny little shards of hacked-up beef, rather than nice strips.

I went back to the grocery store and looked for an alternative. There, I discovered rouladen beef, which was perfect! (Rouladen beef is a very thin cut designed to make little rolls. It has almost no fat, so it was a breeze to work with.) I cut up the beef and put it into its respective marinades for the next 24 hours.

Once marinated, the meat then went into a very low oven (170 degrees F), on a convection setting. Convection sped things up enormously, and the jerky was ready after about four hours. (One note: because of the thickness of the teriyaki sauce and molasses, the Timothy Ferriss recipe needed a little longer in the oven to dry.)

Now I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I forgot to weigh the finished jerky when it came out of the oven. (This will cause some issues once we get to the numbers section, but I think I’ve got it covered.) I packaged everything up in ziplock bags and took it to work the next day for what I was laughingly calling “The Big Jerky-Off”.

Allow Me a Moment to Rave
I absolutely loved Karen Solomon’s book, “Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It”! As well as beef jerky, “Jam It” contains easy-to-follow instructions for making your own marshmallows, potato chips, chai, peanut butter cups and a whole pile of other cool things. Even limoncello. Yes! Limoncello! (It takes a full 8 weeks to make, so expect to see the blog post turn up late in the spring.) The book is beautifully designed and illustrated to boot. There’s a follow-up book called “Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It” and Karen Solomon also has a blog where she chronicles a variety of ongoing food adventures.

The Big Jerky-Off
The Timothy Ferriss recipe had a very extensive development and taste-testing phase, which had given it the right to claim to be the best beef jerky in the world. This was going to be interesting.

The jerky disappeared from our staff lunchroom quite rapidly, and the comments were uniformly enthusiastic for both recipes. When I tallied up the actual votes, however, Karen Solomon was the clear winner. If you are feeding beef jerky to western Canadians, it would seem that simple and straightforward is the way to go.

The Numbers
Since I didn’t weigh my finished product, I was eyeballing size when it came to comparing prices. (This is a bit complicated, so feel free to skip down to the last sentence if you want.)

Across several brands, Wal-Mart’s beef jerky averages out to $5.74 per 100 grams, and Safeway averages out to $6.55 per 100 grams. Between them, that’s an average of $6.15 per 100g. I’m estimating that I ended up with 690g of finished product, costing $24.83 (with lots of ingredients left over for a new batch). That makes my homemade beef jerky $3.60 per 100 grams, a savings of $2.55 per 100 grams or 41%. To put it into American terms, store-bought beef jerky is $27.92 a pound and homemade is $16.34. Cha-ching!

We used a lot of books this week! Between amazon.ca and chapters.ca, the average prices are:
Charcuterie
$23.81
Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It
$19.30
Mary Bell’s Complete Dehydrator Cookbook
$17.42
The 4-Hour Chef
$25.70

On a 690-gram batch of beef jerky, I saved $17.61 as compared to store-bought. That makes this week’s life hack worth $103.84, courtesy of my library card.

Back to You, Stackë
So, Stackë — it seems that we have a bona fide life hack for you. You CAN make good beef jerky at home. It’s quick and easy to whip up, way cheaper than the store stuff, a whole lot less chemical-laden and you don’t need a dehydrator. You just need to pop down to the library and check out a copy of “Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It”. Thank you for sending this challenge my way, and I hope that you and Mrs. Stackë are one step closer to a successful summer of hiking and munching!

Resources
Here’s the skinny on this week’s books:

Charcuterie
The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing
Written by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn
Published by W.W. Norton
Released Nov 22, 2005
ISBN 0393058298

Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It
And Other Cooking Projects
Written by Karen Solomon
Published by Ten Speed Press
Released Apr 28, 2009
ISBN 1580089585

Mary Bell’s Complete Dehydrator Cookbook
Written by Mary Bell
Published by W. Morrow
Released May 23, 1994
ISBN 0688130240

The 4-Hour Chef:
The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Any Skill & Living the Good Life
Written by Timothy Ferriss
Published by New Harvest
Released Nov 20, 2012
ISBN 0547884591

Are You Still Awake?
Yikes! I think I’ve talked long enough this week. Next week, we’re going to tackle a simple and fun topic, requested by one of my colleagues: homemade butter. Until then, Happy Saturday to you and see you soon!

P.S. Update on last week’s sweater: I’ve invested another 5 hours and 14 minutes and I’m a good two-thirds of the way through the front. Stay tuned.

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