Not Julia Childs
Habitability, pt 1
At age eighteen, as most boys in that era, I left home with no homemaking skills. I was living alone in a tiny cottage, while attending my first year of college, and working with autistic children to augment a no-frills living allowance I got from my parents.
Trigger warning if you’re a vegetarian.
With no experience, whatsoever, I attempted to prepare my own dinners. I’d buy a pound of cheap ground beef and bake the entire inch-thick rectangular block in the oven. I’d cook frozen peas in water (pre-microwave era). I’d eat the pound of ground beef and the peas. I may have been able to sustain this for the school year if not for the interference of my girlfriend’s mother.
My girlfriend still lived with her parents. Her mother, on occasion, would give me dinner leftovers in a clay pot to take home. I don’t recall why, but I never ate them. It might have been I wasn’t sure how to warm the food. (I didn’t know clay pots could be put in an oven.) Most likely, I was just that lazy.
A couple of these meals sat in the refrigerator until even sub-forty degrees Fahrenheit couldn’t keep the food from rotting. Ugh. I’d have liked to embalm and bury the food in their clay coffins with a respectful ceremony. But my realistic choices were either return the food containers and hope I sufficiently sanitized the pots of mold odor, or break up with my girlfriend. I made the mature choice: I procrastinated and returned to my focus on cars and motorcycles. I stayed out of the putrid-smelling kitchen until I moved out (yes, I finally cleaned those pots and returned them), and ate Big Macs and French fries every evening for the balance of the school year.
My first try at creative cooking started with stealing an idea from my older brother. He created a meal where he poured a can of beef and vegetable soup into a sauce pan and sprinkled ground beef into the broth. I went with his recipe for a while, then modified it until all that was left was the hood ornament. As a connoisseur of sloppy joes, I first added baked beans, then, over time, more and more random stuff from the refrigerator, even leafy vegetables. I called this “hamburger delight.” It was such a hit, my brother’s friend (who would randomly show at dinner time), always said, “After that meal, I feel like I need a shower.”
I made hamburger delight many times, and until I made it for a couple, figured it was a tasty meal. The husband, a gourmet cook of sorts, tasted it while it was cooking and laughed. The wife, after admonishing her husband, decided to educate me. She added salt, chili powder, and a couple of other spices I don’t recall. The result wasn’t great, but it had flavor. Spices for favor: why didn’t anyone tell me? I thought that’s what pickles in a Big Mac were for.
Until I got married at thirty-six, most of my adult years I lived alone. I ate better than fast food, but as simple as possible. I alternated between a broiled chicken breast, baked beans, and salad, or red snapper, frozen peas, and salad. I learned only one “fancy” dish I could make for others—pasta with a marinara sauce.
My marinara sauce gets a good share of “Likes,” even from those who’ve tasted it. But while my food skills have expanded to include (mostly) additional pastas, I’ve developed a dubious cooking habit. I don’t know how to taste a meal in progress. I don’t know how to spice.
As is my bi-annual custom, I’m back to physical therapy appointments, this time with a shoulder injury. When I work out, I don’t know whether one more rep will give my muscles just the correct amount of stress, or whether one more rep will cause injury. Most of the time, I give it the correct amount, but every couple of years, it’s one rep too many. I’m less careful with my cooking; it’s nearly always one rep of spice too many. The MRIs on my tuna-noodle casseroles, alone, may bankrupt us.
Habitability is designing in-process, rather than imposing a preconceived structure on a project. While habitability as a concept started with architectural design, it has spread well beyond architecture, first to software development, then to other domains. It’s deciding when to add spice to food, one more rep to a workout, or as I’ll get to next, one more room to a house.
Correction to analogical and digital communication
In A Smile is a Bite That Isn’t, I made a mistake. I made a statement about analogical communication with an example from digital communication:
Analogical communication, subtle as it is, can be misunderstood and cause conflict. You may start by fooling around with an intended harmless tease and find yourself in a verbal or physical altercation.
If you read the above and understood, you read my mind, not my text. I wish that was always the case so I wouldn’t have to write at all.
There are exceptions, but when we think of teasing, what comes to mind are verbal jabs—digital communication. Here’s the correction:
Both analogical and digital communication can cause misunderstandings. Analogical: you’re on a date with someone new, and you laugh, nervously; your date takes it as being laughed at. Digital: you make a verbal tease, intended as affectionate; it’s taken as an insult.
Next: Spaces, Habitability, Pt 2