Sunday, October 13, 2013

A FoodWare Manual from Guest Camille Minichino

 We know you're going to enjoy our guest today, Camille Minichino! Welcome Camille!

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!


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.


  1. Welcome to Mystery Lovers Kitchen, Camille! You made my day with this post. Thanks so much for the laugh and the nifty recipe. I think you could make a mint from that guide too.




  2. Welcome, Camille. I sympathize: my husband can cook (although he never puts a pan back where he found it), but he has to have a recipe in front of him. He has no concept of just adding an ingredient because it might be interesting. He really doesn't get it when I make up something as I go. But at least he washes the dishes when I cook!

  3. Oh, Camille! This is priceless! Thank you for a good belly laugh. I remember my dad calling my mom to ask how to turn on the washing machine.

    I think MJ might be on to something. You really ought to market your manual.


  4. Welcome Camille (one of my favorite names--my 3 1/2 year old granddaughter is also Camille.) You have described my husband to a "T." He is not an engineer but comes from a family of them and has the same mindset. He would love your manual. I need to make one for our house. When talking about learning to cook his favorite phrase is "There should be a book telling you how long to cook chicken and at what temperature." When I try to explain it depends on the amount of chicken, what part of the chicken, etc., he shakes his head and gives up.

  5. What a wonderful post. Camille, you have done a fabulous job deducing and defining the problems of communication between techie and non-techie. But then you're a mystery writer--and deducing goes with the territory! As a writer myself, I very much enjoy discovering how different minds interpret the same thing. Such observations and insights often serve as helpful inspirations for developing character and story (as I'm guessing you'll agree)! Thanks so much for sharing with us today, and I certainly hope you'll come back again...

    ~ Cleo

  6. Thanks for the great welcome. I'm having a little trouble posting my comments, but here's another test!

    1. Looks like you're onboard now Camille--thanks for visiting with your funny post!

  7. Hello again! Thanks for your comments. It's always interesting to hear others' anecdotes. Yes, Cleo, such fodder for our books!

    Peg, I'm glad Camille is making a comeback :).

    MJ, Sheila, and Krista -- I might just go to market with my Manual!

  8. Hee, hee!!! Hilarious! I think, at some point, all of us can use this cookbook! I have days when I'm so tired....I can't find the rice either!!!

  9. Funny! It might be easier to give him the number for a chinese take-out.

  10. Funny, T. V.! Very good point about finding the rice.

    And also a very good suggestion from Anonymous!