Camille: It may not be obvious what the connection is between the Mystery Lovers Kitchen blog and my newest e-release: "How to Live with an Engineer."
But you'd get it immediately, if you'd traveled with me a few years ago. The calls would come from my husband, at home, thousands of miles away.
"Which pot do I use for rice?" he'd ask. "Also, I need to know how long it takes to cook it." A pause. "Oh, and, where is the rice, anyway?"
He who can take apart the oven and put it back together, does not know how to use it.
I'd do my best to describe the pot, the timeline, and the location of food in our home, but I knew my words were inadequate. Engineers (as I discuss in my new book) love numbers. Specs. Diagrams.
Ordinary cookbooks don't work for techies, or anyone unfamiliar with a kitchen, like teens, for example.
Cookbooks and recipes are designed for those who have a certain basic knowledge of kitchen terms and equipment. Even the dozens of I-can't-cook books and "easy-to-make" recipes presume a familiarity with terms like "medium-sized sauce pan," and instructions like "grease a 9-in. cake pan."
I've solved our problem by putting together a personal cookbook for my husband. Enter "The Foodware Manual," a binder of information pertinent to OUR kitchen.
I've included here a sample photo, which appears in the section on "Starches." It shows exactly where the rice is in our cupboard, on a shelf above the toaster. Similar photos in the binder show the sauce pan in situ in a cabinet under the stovetop, and indicate the most efficient utensils for the job.
The Manual has tips and clear instructions, like how many touches (5) of the key pad are required to start our oven. (I know it's not the greatest design, I write in a footnote, but unless you push Bake first, and Start after you enter the temperature, it won't go on.)
The Manual includes a timeline that lists every step for dinner at 7, outlining each task in turn to be sure that meat, starch, veggie, and salad are ready at the same time. My techie knows all about the Critical Path Method applied to network diagrams, but when it comes to cooking, he needs a schematic to tell him that before he can dump the green beans into boiling water, he has to allow time to fill a pan with water, set it on the stove, and turn the knob to HI.
As an engineer, he appreciates the details and the clarity of the Manual. It makes cooking seem less like "women's work" (his words, followed by a head slap).
The recipes in the manual are hardly worth recording here, since his taste runs to the bland, seasonless end of the scale. The recipe I am including is more fun: the ever popular, quick and delicious Saltine Toffee Bars!
Even an engineer can do this, though he'd prefer to watch the video:. Come to think of it, I wrote the Manual using old, print technology. Maybe it's time for me to make a YouTube demo for cooking rice!
SALTINE TOFFEE BARS
1 stack of saltines, enough to line a cookie tray
2 sticks butter
1 cup brown sugar
12 oz. (2 cups) semisweet chocolate chips, or enough to cover your tray
8 oz. (3/4 cup) chopped walnuts or other favorite nut
Line the cookie tray with foil, then place saltines, touching edge to edge, to cover the tray. Melt butter and sugar until blended, then pour over crackers. Bake at 400 degrees for about 5 minutes. Remove tray from oven and immediately sprinkle chocolate chips over the crackers. Spread the chocolate as it melts. Sprinkle the nuts over the chocolate.
Let cool (if you can wait); cut into pieces and have a picnic.
Thanks so much MLKers for hosting me today!
Camille Minichino has been married to an engineer for 36 years. She is the author of 17 mysteries in three series: The Periodic Table Mysteries, The Miniature Mysteries (as Margaret Grace) and the Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries (as Ada Madison). The Quotient of Murder is due from Berkley Prime Crime in November, 2013. Visit her website.