Remote Worker Chicken Meatball Soup

People who work in creative fields like writing, programming, and design tend to be productive in fits and starts.

I know some folks who have the discipline to sit at a desk and just crank out good quality work, day in and day out. I don’t think I’m one of these people. I can do this type of work, but at least in my case the productive output feels pretty mechanical in process and final product. At least to me.

Counterintuitively, I find that my most productive and creative days involve little actual productivity, from a percent-of-the-day perspective. Good ideas take time to surface and coalesce, and, at least for me, that’s rarely a deliberate activity. 

I like to let those things come together via some unknown cognitive background process. (The thinking slow part of Thinking, Fast and Slow.) But it’s not like I can just sit and meditate my way to a research question or article idea; I have to be doing something active.

A lot of folks find mental clarity and flow states through exercise. I, for one, tend to hate every minute of exercising and can only really focus on just how badly the podcast episode I’m listening to is distracting me from whatever fresh hell I’m wreaking on my corporeal being today. (Except for when I’m cycling; then, I fly.)

I currently work from home, and that’s given me the opportunity to exercise a different set of skills. I really enjoy the process and rhythm of cooking, and I’ve managed to build food prep and cooking into my workweek as a way to have something productive and creative to do while the creative, productive work I do for money and health insurance metaphorically simmers on the back burner.

Is cooking downtime? Technically, yes. But it’s productive downtime that helps with managing stress, saving money, and eating healthier. Is it less efficient from a time perspective? Sure. It’s easier and much quicker to go get lunch at the yuppie food court around the corner, but I currently make the small-to-medium-sized dollars writing on the internet about large-dollar venture capital deals. If I made software or finance money, I’d consider eating fancy $20 salads most days, but I’d probably still sneak in a bunch of homemade lunches. 

Because, again, it’s not about the time or the money; it’s about the process. Years of practice and following instructions lets you start coming up with your own instructions and your own recipes. Whether that’s for code, for data visualizations, for phrasing, or for soup.

Here’s a recipe for a very tasty soup, with plenty of color commentary. Forgive the verbosity. It’s an occupational hazard.

Apologies for taking a bite out of one of the meatballs before taking the picture, which could have probably been taken from a better angle.

Ingredients

For the meatballs

  • 1 pound ground chicken
    • if you can find ground chicken thighs, even better
  • 1 Tablespoon of finely minced fresh ginger
    • Unless you have no other option, avoid the jarred stuff. Buy whole root and peel it with the edge of a spoon before processing
  • 1 Tablespoon finely minced garlic
    • You could also use a microplane to process the garlic. However, because the microplane creates so much surface area, you might want to use slightly less garlic if you’re sensitive to it
  • 2-ish Tablespoons of finely sliced scallions, white and pale green parts only
    • Finely slice the darker green parts too, but keep those separate for later
  • A daring amount of red pepper flakes, to taste
    • If you have fresh hot peppers, even better. Especially if they’re Thai chilis or habaneros, because of the fruity notes they give
  • A little kosher salt
  • A little olive oil

For The Soup

  • A 32oz container of good cloudy chicken broth
  • 3-4 leaves Lacinato kale
  • Rice vermicelli or other thin rice noodles.
  • Salt
  • (Optional) Just a wee bit of the special salt (MSG)
  • (Optional) Dried shiitake or maitake mushrooms

For The Toppings

  • The reserved sliced dark green parts of the green onion
  • Cilantro
  • Fermented hot sauce
  • (Optional) a dash or two of soy sauce

Preparation Of The Work

  1. Because anxiety, wake up at approximately 6:15 AM, about an hour before the scheduled alarm. Roll over and reach down for your vintage iPad Pro. Read the internet for awhile, until about 7 AM.
  2. Perform your regular morning ablutions. Shower, shave, teeth brushing, etc. Get dressed.
  3. Realize you have some ground chicken in the fridge that you should probably do something with before you go on vacation.
  4. Look in your fridge’s produce drawer and assess the state of your provisions. Note the ever-so-slightly desiccated exterior of the ginger you bought last week for smoothies but instead left to languish in the produce drawer, slowly drying up.
  5. Remember bits and bobs from that one meatball soup recipe in that Nigel Slater cookbook, Tender.
  6. Come to terms with your lack of kale and various herbs and aromatics.
  7. At 7:50 AM, decide that you have enough time for a very quick trip to the grocery store.
  8. Walk several blocks to the grocery store. Obtain ingredients. Go home, and refrigerate your perishables.

Preparation Of The Ingredients

Mise

Unless you’re exceptionally slow with a chef’s knife, this shouldn’t take much more than 15 minutes between Zoom calls. This is also a process that can be accomplished during a call if you’re not on video, though you may want to mute yourself when dealing with clanky metal bowls.

  1. Grab yourself a big mixing bowl and a stack of small prep bowls.
  2. Peel ginger using the edge of a spoon. Place garlic on a cutting board, place the side of your chef’s knife on the garlic and, with a closed fist and swift hands, hit the side of the knife with the bottom part of your hand sufficiently hard to crush the garlic slightly and loosen the skin, but not hard enough to send garlic shrapnel flying about the kitchen, the smell of which would linger for days.
  3. Mince garlic and peeled ginger, together or separately. Both will end up in the same small prep bowl.
  4. Slice your scallions and place them in the bowl with the garlic and ginger. Add your pinch of pepper flakes or finely-minced fresh hot peppers to the prep bowl. (Please note: if you’re using fresh peppers it’s advisable to wear a glove and use a separate small cutting board for the prep.)
  5. Wash your kale under cold water. For each leaf, run the tip of your knife along each side of the fibrous stem to cut it out. Stack and roll your de-stemmed kale leaves like a cigar, and chiffonade the leaves widthwise. You should be left with a lot of very thin ribbons of kale. Place in the remaining (empty) prep bowl.
If not using immediately, place both prep bowls in the fridge. Both should be fine there for a couple hours without degrading their quality.

Make The Meatballs

This is another step that can be accomplished in the interstitial time between calls or downtime between large-ish tasks. This process should take about 20-25 minutes from beginning to end.

  1. Get a sufficiently large frying pan onto the stove and begin pre-heating it over medium-low heat. The next couple steps should only take a few minutes, enough time for your pan to come up to temp.
  2. Get your large mixing bowl.
  3. Put in your ground chicken, your aromatics from the small prep bowl, salt (I recommend going very easy on the salt because you can always add additional salt to the broth later), and a little olive oil (maybe a couple of teaspoons) to help a bit with emulsifying all the ingredients.
  4. Using very, very clean hands (or, if you’re squeamish about chicken, gloved hands—or a spatula if you must) thoroughly mix the ingredients until they’re homogeneously blended. Then wash your hands.
  5. Add a little bit of oil to the pre-heated pan. Even if it’s nonstick, oil helps with conducting heat.
  6. Again, using very, very clean hands (or gloved hands), roll the meat mixture into spheres just a bit smaller than golfballs. Make your meatballs and place them directly into the pre-heated pan. Do not overcrowd the pan. I repeat: do not overcrowd the pan. Do this in a couple batches if you need to.
  7. Lightly brown the meatballs on all sides. Keep in mind that, at this point, it’s likely that they aren’t cooked all the way through, and should be treated as if they were still raw.
  8. If not using immediately, remove from heat to a ceramic plate or glass storage container. Refrigerate if you’re not going to make your soup within about 20-30 minutes after browning.

Build Your Soup

This can be initiated in parallel with the browning step of the meatballs.

  1. Bring your chicken broth or stock to a simmer in a large enough saucepan to accommodate your meatballs and cooking liquid. (If you’re using dried mushrooms, add them to the pot alongside the stock so they can come up to temp together. This will give the mushrooms time to rehydrate.)
  2. Carefully add your meatballs to the broth, ensuring that they’re covered by at least an inch of liquid. If not, add more broth (if you have it) or water.
  3. Bring back to a simmer and let cook for about 5 minutes, long enough to cook the meatballs through to the center.
  4. Taste for salt and add more if desired.
  5. Add your kale ribbons to the pot, stir to combine, and cover. Simmer for 2-3 minutes until the kale is slightly softened but still has a little texture to it.
  6. Take a tangle of thin rice noodles and add it to the pot, ensuring they’re submerged in the cooking liquid. Let simmer for 1-2 minutes, until al dente.

Plating (Bowling?)

  1. In your favorite soup bowl, ladle in a satisfying number of meatballs, some rice noodles, and some broth.
  2. In order: Top with a good fermented hot sauce, ideally made from green chili peppers. Then add your scallions. Then add your cilantro, lightly torn.
  3. Eat immediately.
  4. Refrigerate leftovers for lunch tomorrow and/or the following day.

The Net Fishing Guy

At a beach south of Hilo I spent about 20 minutes watching this guy watch the water.

Bunched under his arm was a fishing net. He was standing on some rocks, staring into a pool. Leaning forward, ready to strike. Like a leopard.

Every minute or so he would stand up, loosening his stance. Readjust, stepping one or two feet to one side or another, angling.

I imagine that this was one of his usual spots. It’s hard to tell what exactly he was looking for. As he stood there, you could see in his stance that he was intent on accomplishing a single mission.

It went on like this. Standing at the ready, adjusting stance slightly, fiddling a little with the net, to make sure the weighted beads around its frill were hanging down and flat.

The tide was coming in.

I don’t know what his trigger was, but he saw his target through the chop and foam. Like a starburst his net, easily six feet across, cast wide for an instant before sinking to the bottom.

I watched him haul in the net, scooping nylon in voluminous bunches. A tangled snapper came in with one of the final pulls.

He hugged the net close as he walked across the jagged lava rocks to an orange five-gallon bucket he had perched on another rock, higher up away from the surf.

He fished his quarry out of the net, placed it in the bucket, put on the lid, bunched up his net, and tossed it over his shoulder. He waded through the rising tide, crossed through the beach. He put the bucket and his net in the back of his mini van, parked beneath some trees. And he drove off.

One cast, one fish. More anecdotal evidence that providence favors the patient and practiced.

The Rush To Publish

“academics: yes, let’s meet in 7 months and 6 days, at 2:08 PM ¶ journalists: hi can you comment for this article, it’s due in 47 seconds. also i’ve left you seven voicemails” – @eveewing, a sociologist of education and a writer from Chicago.

  • I know Dr. Ewing is not referring to startup media in particular, but the last-minute nature of most press interactions is especially pronounced in the end of the media pool I currently occupy.
  • The prisoners’ dilemma between startup/venture PR and the press results in stressed-out reporters and dissatisfied founders, who wish that writers would do more than just crib quotes from press releases.
  • This last-minute rush to coverage would be entirely ameliorated by just seeding embargoed information with decent, ethical reporters ahead of time. The problem is, there’s so much incentive to break embargo and publish first, so PR reaches out on short notice. This is a huge, huge problem in startup finance reporting. I wouldn’t reach out at the last second, requesting comment, if information wasn’t disbursed at the last minute.
  • In this context, I totally understand why founders and their PR representatives would want to focus their attention on more asynchronous forms of media, like podcasts or long-form profile-type coverage. I wouldn’t reach out to news reporters either.
  • Also, when I have my journalism hat on, founders either want to exploit me for access to an audience, or fear me because I have insider information. (I don’t disclose sources or methods.) It’s not a healthy relationship for anyone involved. For the record, this is one of the primary reasons I don’t really like journalism as a profession.
  • It’s, like, the better I get at my day job the less relatable I become to the folks I feel most comfortable around. I suppose venture investors with prior founding experience have similar feelings about the founders they interact with. But y’all are already accredited, just sayin’.
  • This doesn’t even get me to the problems with breaking news using open data sources like SEC filings. At the point a filing drops into the public domain, we’re in a Hobbesian state of nature. But that’s probably a note for a later day.

Indie Software I Pay For

“What’s tech/software/app that is (a) run by indie devs/small co and (b) that you feel great paying for? ¶ two of mine: ¶ @BearNotesApp @OvercastFM” – @hunterwalk

I guarantee I’m forgetting some stuff. This might be updated in the future.

Web & iOS

  • Innologica: Inoreader. RSS for power-users. This is how I consume everything from email newsletters and blogs to giant feeds of SEC filings.

iOS

  • Overcast: Podcasts.
  • GoodNotes: Digital notebook that pairs well with Apple Pencil.
  • CARROT: Weather, mostly for the sassy bot as a shell for DarkSky

MacOS

  • Omnigroup: OmniOutliner
  • Smile Software: TextExpander
  • Devon Technologies: DEVONagent (web browser with very deep search and topic network visualization I use for research), DEVONthink (Like locally-hosted Evernote, but terrifyingly more flexible. I use this for researching big projects and managing different knowledge bases.)

Apple: Cross-platform

  • Information Architects: iA Writer, IMO the best minimalist Markdown editor experience (with lots of great keyboard shortcuts), but it has some bugs with syncs and versioning
  • Agile Turtle: Drafts 5, the MacOS beta of which was so compelling that I upgraded to Mojave from Sierra just to try it.
  • Omnigroup: OmniFocus Pro (yes, OmniOutliner is also available on iOS but I don’t use it there)
  • Tapbots: Tweetbot, for twitter list tracking

In Regards To Sweatpants

“Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.” – Karl Lagerfeld, RIP

Nods while wearing a recently-purchased pair of grey sweatpants. I bought a black pair too. They were cut and sewn in Canada and I spent $95 apiece.

  • In before everyone says it’s my privilege, as a remote knowledge worker, to wear egregiously pricey sweatpants basically any time I choose. I know.
  • An earlier version of me posted the Karl Lagerfeld quote on Facebook or similar back in the day. I was only partially wrong then.
  • But here’s the deal: as with denim, every incremental $25 spent on sweatpants delivers a product with materially better, er, material and fit-and-finish.
  • Unlike denim, the quality of sweatpants levels off at a lower price point.
    Before veering off into pure fashion and status signaling, the best-quality sweatpants money can buy are probably at or around the $100-125 price range, whereas the best denim I’ve ever bought was somewhere in the $275 range, which in all practical terms is the upper limit on denim when quality and construction are the only parameters.
  • I’m of the “spend all of the money once or twice” school of consumerism, and I believe in repairing high-quality clothes. So, my bet is that the $200 I spent on two pairs of sweatpants once is gonna deliver a better value, over time, than the dozen (or more) pairs of cheaper sweats people might buy over the same period of use.

Note: Wednesday Was Brutal For The Media Business

Contained here are notes and musings, not a formal statement of my position on any matter in particular.

On January 23, 2019, the following headlines crossed the wire:

(Note: I don’t think the publications listed above broke their respective stories; I just selected their headlines off the top of a search query.)

It’s weird for me. Although I nominally perform the role of someone “in media” (as a reporter and data analyst for our news team and other news organizations on-demand) I identify first as an employee “in tech.”

After all, I’m employed by a technology company, and prior to becoming a professional writer I co-founded a tech startup that didn’t really go anywhere. These days, separate and apart from my day job, as a volunteer I help organize startup pitch events for a large open source software foundation.

Apart from my colleagues on my small team, I don’t spend a lot of time interacting with other folks in the news business. My closest friends are in finance and/or software engineering, or started their own businesses.

In other words, there are a lot of countervailing forces against me self-identifying as someone “in media,” even though, in practice, that’s the functional and ecological niche I occupy.

I don’t know how this reflects on me, but apart from feeling bad that people from the publications mentioned above are losing their jobs, I don’t know what to say about the broader narrative of media’s decline.

The tech-aligned entrepreneur in me sees an opportunity for smaller newsrooms and something resembling old-school blogs and newsletters run by one or two folks. I don’t know if more dyed-in-the-wool media folks feel the same way.

How To Send A Haunted VC/Startup Newsletter

As you may or may not know, I have a newsletter I’ve been sending out since May 2016 on a roughly weekly basis. If you want to keep up with what I write at the day job and the most interesting links I find while procrastinating at my day job, consider subscribing: Rowley.Report.

Considering it’s Halloween and all, I figured I should share some of the tips and tricks I use to produce that content.

You have to understand that to produce something like that every week, an elaborate conjuring ritual is involved. Trick or treat?

  1. Start by arraying five beeswax candles in the shape of an upside down star on the floor. Light the candles.
  2. Fashion a miniature boat out of cocktail bar coasters and glue, and use one of the heavy metal pens they give you to sign your bill at the Rosewood as a mast.
  3. Print out the most recent leaked term sheet and fashion it into a sail, affixing it to the makeshift boat.
  4. Anoint the small boat with samples of billionaire founders’ blood, sweat, and tears.
  5. Place the boat in the middle of the inverted star on the floor.
  6. Burn and scatter the ashes of one of the last remaining hard copies of Georges Doriot’s Manufacturing class notes into and about the small boat.
  7. For safety, blow out the candles in your house and take your boat to the nearest body of water, ideally while riding a Bird or Lime scooter.
  8. Short-circuit one JUUL e-cigarette battery such that it begins to heat up, and place it in the boat.
  9. Also place a USB stick containing the weekly output of charts and all items, read and unread, from my RSS feedreader.
  10. Push the boat into the open water. If timed correctly, the short-circuiting JUUL battery will light the whole thing on fire, resulting in a kind of viking funeral effect. Like this: 🔥⛵
  11. Summon the Owl by hooting vigorously toward the blackness of the woods. Speak of phenomenal risk-adjusted returns with it, in tongues, until sunrise.
  12. Go home, and sleep.
  13. Kind of all in one fell swoop: Merge accumulated notes in iA Writer & Drafts 5 into a new document; edit markdown in iA Writer; in iA Writer, left-swipe with two fingers to reveal well-rendered and semantic HTML; copy; paste into new Mailchimp email campaign.
  14. Press send.
  15. Wait.

My Grandfather’s Ghost In The Watch

Earlier today, Apple announced a raft of new phones, which no doubt will excite a lot of people. Apple also announced a new version of its Apple Watch today—Series 4.

One of the watch’s new features is very near and dear to me: the conductive pads on the back which help the watch capture electrical activity and display it as an electrocardiograph.

Image credit: Apple

Back in the late 1950s, my grandfather, Donald Rowley, co-invented the gel electrode alongside fellow pathologist Seymour Glagov. From his 2013 obituary published by the University of Chicago’s news office:

At the time, there were no tools to monitor heartbeats over long periods; so they invented one. They worked with an undergraduate student at UChicago and a watch repairman to convert a spring-wound pocket watch into a portable pulse counter and built tiny electrical sensors that could be glued reliably to the chest—the first gel electrodes. The gadget later would be scaled up with help from the Elgin National Watch Co. and Illinois Bell Telephone.

This simple device, no bigger than a deck of cards, accurately could record the electrical activity of the heart for more than 24 hours. It heralded the birth of ambulatory cardiology. Rowley and colleagues described their counter in a report to Science in 1959. They performed additional studies on 100 volunteers, showing enormous variation in daily heart rates.

They didn’t patent their invention because, as my grandfather put it, it was “simply not part of the academic culture.”

No longer a wind-up device made of watch parts, a descendent of my grandfather’s ticker-tracker lives on in watch form, which I think is pretty wild.

Links: September 5, 2018