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In the early 1980s, I was in an odd phase of my work life and found myself secretary to the head of the art department at New York University. Sometimes we were busy, but when we weren’t, I would entertain myself by using my trusty typewriter to work on stories about my childhood and my growing interest in food and cooking. Then, one day, a guy in the newly designated tech department rolled in a personal computer, the first of its kind, and set it in front of me. His excitement was as palpable as my disinterest. And fear. Reluctantly, I learned how to use a computer. There was no way out of it.
There were no cell phones then, but people were beginning to install answering machines in their homes. I resisted, preferring simply to refrain from picking up the ringing phone if I didn’t feel like talking. Eventually, I had to give in. Once I did, there was no way to pretend I didn’t know people had called, so I felt obligated to get back to them. I feared the same thing would happen when I heard about email. I was late to that game, too, and to getting a home computer in the first place. My sister, Janet, gave me her old Dell, and that is how I came to own one. Years later, a friend gave me a tiny flip phone she no longer needed, and I carry it in my pocketbook in case of an emergency. Don’t ask me how to retrieve a message from it. I’m not sure what an Android is, but the flip phone is confusing enough, so I sense it’s not for me.
I use my computer to write my columns and to email friends. I do not use social media. I have never “liked” Facebook and am not on it. I don’t know anything about Instagram or how to tweet. To be honest, I don’t really know what a tweet is, though I think I’ve heard that it’s short in duration. I am not crazy about blogs and do not enjoy reading anything online, such as the newspaper; I like holding what I’m reading in my hands. Let’s just say that I am in the dark regarding technology and do not want to turn on the light.
Friends and relatives often email me with food and recipe questions. I usually have an easy response, because I’ve been cooking for so many years, but sometimes I’ve been stumped, and I have my own questions at times. When the farmers’ market vendors were featuring asparagus, I bought a bunch, then forgot how long it takes to oven-roast them, which is a favorite method of mine. It dawned on me to Google the information. Another time, having picked up some wild salmon fillets and knowing the white miso paste I had in the fridge would be a good match, I Googled recipes. Up came dozens such as “miso-ginger marinated grilled salmon,” and “miso-teriyaki salmon.”
Now, any food-fancier with a blog who imagines him or herself to be a chef can pop up when I Google a recipe. I sort through them quickly and chose recipes by reputable or well-known names, such as the magazine Bon Appetit, the New York Times, or the website Epicurious. I spend a few minutes comparing three, maybe four recipes, and then I make it my own by adding or subtracting ingredients I either favor or dislike.
I am amazed by the variety of food-related questions one can google. And there are always answers! What’s the best way to keep fresh lychee nuts? Store them in the fridge in a plastic bag. Can I marinate meat or chicken, bag it in a zip-lock, then freeze it in the liquid? Yes, I can. Can I substitute frozen corn for fresh? Easily, though there is nothing that compares with a newly picked ear of corn. What’s a good way to use up leftover rice? How about a creamy Mexican rice casserole with poblano chilis or stuffed bell peppers in a zingy tomato sauce? What about the breast meat from a rotisserie chicken? Try chicken potpie or piquant enchiladas. It’s all there at my fingertips. All I have to do is type in a question. And I’ve been typing since the seventh grade. That was when we used inky black carbon paper to make copies. When I fiddled with the thin, crinkly paper, my hands would turn bluish-black and sticky. Those were the days!