Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Jessika finds constant amusement in my need for numbers and specificity. Even for so simple a task as making boxed macaroni and cheese, I follow the directions. But directions aren't enough. Because of whatever strange things happen inside my head, I go a step further. See, the side of the box calls for 4 tablespoons of butter or margarine and a quarter cup of milk. When the kids eat mac and cheese, I always take a fresh stick of butter out of the fridge, so I can measure it more easily (I sometimes even look for the stick where the measurement lines aren't crooked), and I pour milk into a measuring cup. I set the butter and the milk on the counter, along with the torn-open package of cheese. Once the pasta finishes cooking, all I have to do is add my pre-measured milk, butter, and cheese packet. Then I stir. 

Jessika eyeballs her quantities. She puts some butter into the pot, puts some milk into the pot, and she never measures it. I can't live like that. I can't just put "some" of anything into a recipe. I will happily eat food that others cook, regardless of their methods, but I personally have difficulty with the concept of "some of this, some of that" cooking.

So the food I cook often has complicated mise en place, leading me to dirty large numbers of tiny dishes to make simple recipes. You know those cooking shows where professional chefs use countless ramekins to show the TV audience what all the ingredients look like before they go into a dish? I would manage my cooking life like that, if I could. I like to think, though, that the food I cook maintains consistency from one preparation to the next. If you've eaten my baked mac and cheese once, the dish will taste the same each time (unless I don't have a properly-shaped dish or try making it with gluten-free pasta). You know what you're getting. I find comfort in knowing what I'm getting.

So, I've probably front-loaded the punchline for this entire post here, but bearing in mind my need for numbers and my need for mise en place, when Jessika and I took the kids to the beach last week, we had friends and family telling us over and over again to use plenty of sunscreen. For most people, this is pretty good advice, but for the four of us, it was a recipe for fiery pain and copious amounts of aloe.

This is a picture of me from last week. No, look again. The sun temporarily burned away my smug arrogance.

Jessika and the kids had never gone to the beach. They don't know about the sunlight reflecting off the sand or the danger of an overcast and windy day. So they didn't have a frame of reference for how quickly they would burn or how much sunscreen to use. I have a frame of reference, but I have an entirely different set of challenges, which I managed to inflict upon my wife and kids. I don't have any idea how to quantify "plenty". By my reckoning, if I made $60,000 a year in my job, I'd have plenty of money. By somebody else's reckoning, $60,000 a year would barely pay the bills. "Plenty" is a matter of perspective. An NFL quarterback with 4 or 5 seconds to think about where to throw the ball has plenty of time. Give me the same amount of time to throw a football, and I'm still trying to figure out how to hold the stupid thing.

You know what would have helped me? A measurement. Something like, "Apply .25 ounces of sunscreen per 50 square inches of skin." Then the package could give me a helpful infographic detailing how to determine my overall skin area, based on my height and weight. A skin pigmentation graph wouldn't hurt either, just in case there are greater or lesser amounts of sunscreen recommended, depending on skin type. I also wouldn't mind having a couple of pictures of what my skin should look like after applying sunscreen. Should there be a slight sheen to my skin? Should it look normal? Should there still be white streaks from where not all the sunscreen absorbed into my skin? These are pressing questions from someone who dragged three innocents into the world of beach-induced, head-to-toe sunburn last week.

Finally, I need a timeline for reapplication. Based on time of day, cloud cover, temperature, latitude, whatever other relevant factors come into play -- how often should I reapply sunscreen? Again, a handy infographic would help me.

With enough time on my hands, I could even pre-portion sunscreen, creating my own preventative mise en place for the entire family, saying, "Ok, now it's time to put on sunscreen. This is exactly how much you need, in this little squeeze tube. We'll meet back here in 53 minutes and 21 seconds to reapply, unless the sun comes out. Then we'll meet in 41 minutes and 43 seconds."

Then again, Jessika has now completed her first trial run at the beach. And her macaroni and cheese comes out just as well as mine does. 

I probably don't need to pre-portion, after all.


  1. Oh crap. I completely agree with you about the crooked butter lines. I also second your suggestion about sunscreen infographics and pigment charts. Should I be worried??

    1. Of course you shouldn't be worried! Now we both know that we are kindred souls in the butter/infographic departments.

  2. Just remember if the sunburn is bad use vinegar and brown paper bags torn into wide strips to take the sting out of the burn

    1. Good to know. This was the third sunburn of my life, because up until recently, I didn't burn. This is a whole new world.