Learning How to Cook: June 2015

My ex-husband moved out of the house at the end of January of this year. We were married for just over five years. During those five years I think I only made dinner twice.

My ex-husband was a disciple of Alton Brown and he was obsessed with cooking. He bought a sous-vide. We installed a gas range in the kitchen. We regularly went to the knife shop downtown so he could get his knives sharpened and buy new kitchen gadgets.

It was also something of a living nightmare.

IMG_1888Shortly after my ex-husband turned 30, he was turned onto the Paleo diet. All of a sudden, rice, bread, and potatoes disappeared from our house. Dinner became a 12 ounce steak with three brussels sprouts. If I tried to take more than three I got yelled at for being greedy.

Food became scare around the house.

No one tells you this, but doing Paleo is an assload of work. You pretty much have to prepare a whole meal every night because a lot of the Paleo foods aren’t really designed to be eaten leftover. One night we would have lamb chops, the next I would be scavenging for food after a long day at work to be told that I could eat all the salad I wanted. Fuck that.

I started hiding food around the house.

My ex would find my food and eat it and complain to me about how having it around threw him off his diet. Once he ate a bagel that threw him off his diet, well then he was already off and why not go out and get Chinese food?

My dad has been on the opposite diet most of my life. His diet consists primarily of beans and brown rice. I remember as a teenager being told by my dad that a cheeseburger I ate on the way home was going to kill me. My dad and my ex-husband would have fights that would almost come to blows over which one of them was wrong. Both were convinced the other was going to drop dead any day because they were eating poison.

Thanksgiving was the worst.

IMG_1895My ex-husband insisted on doing all the cooking (expect for pie, which he let our mothers take responsibility for). He would spend a week brining the turkey, which had to be specially pasture-raised, making a starter for the bread, and creating his own stock. When Thanksgiving would actually happen, he would spend twelve hours stressed out of his mind trying to get a meal done that no one would eat because everyone filled up on cheese and crackers waiting for dinner to get done. I usually would steal two bottles of wine and hide in my childhood bedroom watching Doctor Who.

I decided when he moved out that I was not putting up with this shit anymore. I spent my life being told by my dad I couldn’t eat cheeseburgers and being told by my husband I couldn’t eat bread. Fuck all of this. I did not want to cook. I just wanted to live off of prepared food I found at Costco and the grocery store.

This went great for a while. I got to eat all the stuff like lasagna I hadn’t been able to have in several years. Everything was awesome.

Until it wasn’t.

I noticed after a while of doing this that I was getting tired of the food I had available to me. Even stuff that i liked tasted kind of processed.

One day a few months ago, I went to Costco to pick up my food for the next week or so. Nothing looked appealing. I was tired of everything I saw.

Then I noticed that they had boneless skinless chicken thighs. They came in six packages of four. One of the biggest things keeping me from figuring out how to cook was trying to figure out how to debone chicken. Seeing that I could get packages of about a pound of deboned chicken to include in various recipes removed an obstacle I had mentally about figuring out how to cook.

IMG_1940I picked up ingredients for food rather than food. I walked out to my car and looked in my trunk with a modicum of despair because I was pretty sure I was not going to have food for the next week or so because I wouldn’t feel like cooking anything.

Fast forward two months.

I actually have gone through most of my chicken. I had to throw one package out because I forgot to use it in time. Other than that, I actually made food.

I have done a lot better at making food for myself to have for lunch than I feared I would. I have been slower than I wish I had been. I am hoping to learn to do things faster.

One thing that always amazed me about my ex was the fact that I would look in the refrigerator and not see anything for dinner. He used to be able to look in there and say, “We have X, Y, and Z, which means I can make Foo.” I never understood how he did that.

I understand now.

I control everything that I have in my kitchen.

I have a certain number of things that I keep in stock so that I can construct meals out of them.

I have a few meals that are basically all the same ingredients but have different spices in them. I really like stewed chicken. I can make a chicken stew with a bunch of veggies and either add curry roux or some other spice mixture and have two different meals.

IMG_1924I have also figured out how much you can do with a friend egg. I never ate fried eggs until I married my ex. I always found eggs to be rather gross. I discovered that if you break the yolk over something, it makes a sauce and you have an instant meal.

I cook sweet potatoes with onions on Sunday mornings and it usually makes 2-3 servings. I reserve one serving and eat it later in the week.

I know I should probably not waste my time each week making a meal. I should spend my time working on my app or working on my conference talks. But you know what, I don’t care. For the first time in my life I can control what I eat. I think both my father and my ex were wrong about how they ate. I think food is more than just what you put in your body. I think it can feed your soul. I think sitting down to a nice meal that you enjoy that you made yourself has its own healing properties. I don’t want to spend my life thinking I shouldn’t have eaten that piece of bread because bread is bad for you. I want to think about how enjoyable it was to feel the crust crunching between my teeth and feeling the butter oozing off of it and I scarfed it down. I don’t do that every day. I don’t want to be on my deathbed and think about all the food I didn’t eat because I was worried about losing five pounds.

It’s been interesting to me to slowly expand the boundaries of what I can do. The first time I made curry it was scary because I never really worked with raw chicken before. I never cut it up or dealt with cooking it properly. To be fair, braising chicken isn’t that difficult to do. Then again, the enjoyment of a meal shouldn’t be determined by how difficult it was to prepare.

I am glad I don’t have to eat another piece of undercooked pork or unreasoned beans and rice ever again. I can control what fuel I put in my body and knowing that I have more options than I did six months ago makes me feel awesome.

Soul Searching

January, 2014

I began my programming career in late December 2013. It started something out of necessity. Sometime around October I suffered from a nervous collapse that made it impossible for me to focus on my school work. I had dropped out. I was lying to my husband about dropping out of school because I was gambling on my ability to find a job around the time I was supposed to graduate. I was very lucky and something came through.

My only hope for my first job was that I would find something in iOS. In the Madison area, that was a pretty stiff order. Madison is a lot of enterprise Java, government, and health care.

I managed to find a job at a start-up where I was the oldest person by a decade. I was partially hired because my bosses were not old enough to drink and didn’t know any better about hiring people who have actual experience.

By January, I knew this wasn’t working. I didn’t get along with my programming partner and I knew I was going to be let go. I was okay with that. I knew it was a bad fit.

I did some soul searching at that point. I knew it was bad to lose your first job after two months and I did have some concerns with my long-term ability to be hired. I had a few choices. I could kind of fake it and find another, similar job where I would be equally uncomfortable, but possibly be able to fake it better. Or, I could acknowledge that I was in the weeds and I didn’t know what I was doing.

The people around me didn’t know what they were doing either, but I had enough training and visceral awareness to know that my programming sucked. I knew it could be better and I knew it would never be better if I continued to pretend like I knew what I was doing.

I sat down and started thinking about what I wanted from my career. There was only one thing I absolutely knew I wanted. I wanted to be Brad Larson.

Brad, for those who have not heard my enthusiastic ramblings about him, is the creator of GPUImage. Brad taught the Advanced iOS class at MATC the first year it was offered. The classes were, and are still, available to watch on iTunesU. While I was a student I heard a lot of stories about him. I heard about how Apple engineers told him that something he wanted to do with his Molecules app was physically impossible to do on the current hardware. He figured out a way around the limitation and he made it happen. He was the guy who did impossible things.

I didn’t know if it was possible or how long it would take, but I wanted that. I wanted to understand the language well enough that I could figure out a way around the limitations. I wanted to be a great programmer.

I reached out to Brad and told him that I wanted to do what he does and asked him for advice about how to get started. He was very kind and wrote a nice email back. A few weeks later, a contract opportunity became available to work with him on an extension of his Molecules app. I knew I was on my way out at my current job, so I reached out to him. I told him that I didn’t know anything but that I wanted to. I really wanted to make sure I didn’t misrepresent myself because I wanted to learn and I couldn’t do that if I pretended to know things I didn’t.

After this contract job, I spent time working on a book with Chris Adamson and doing a lot of conference talks. I was trying to get my name out there so that I could find a job. I talked about GPU programming and Metal because they were new things. I didn’t really explain them as well as they should be explained because I didn’t have enough experience with them to fully understand them. I gambled on talking about difficult and obscure technology to try and differentiate myself from all the other new programmers out there.

To my shock and surprise, Brad reached out to me about working for him as my speaking obligations were winding down. I did it. I accomplished the short term goal I made at the beginning of the year to find a programming job with a great programmer so that I could get better and be a great programmer too.

January 2015

Let’s jump ahead a year.

At the beginning of this year I initiated a divorce with my husband. Things had been difficult for a long time. My goal for a few years had been to find stable employment that would allow me to end the marriage.

I do not want to badmouth my ex-husband. Our divorce was amicable. He was a friend before we were married and he continues to be a friend. We had a lot of trouble and I honestly wish him no ill will.

I am bringing this up simply to establish that the last six months have been very difficult.

I have never taken care of myself.

I lived with my parents until I was 27 years old. I was essentially a perpetual student because I didn’t really understand how to find a job or support myself. I moved from my parent’s house to my husband’s house. The first few years I was working I had my husband manage our money because I was earning minimum wage and I did not want to know what my weekly paycheck was because I was afraid if I knew how little it was, it would be easier for me to mentally justify calling in sick when I didn’t feel like going. I was unemployed from 2012 for most of the rest of our marriage. I have never budgeted my money. I have never paid my own bills. I never lived on my own. I don’t think I filed a tax return until I got married because I earned no income.

The last six months have been difficult. It’s been hard trying to learn things that most people knew when they were 16. It’s been hard being away from my pugs so much every day. My house is still a mess because I am simply too tired and demoralized to clean it. I don’t think I’ve put my laundry away since February. My ex-husband was actually so appalled by my inability to care for myself that he cleaned my kitchen one day when he was here picking up some of this things.

The last six months have been physically and emotionally exhausting. I have had bouts of depression that I have spoken about on this blog before. It’s been rough.

Because things have been rough, I have been letting a lot of things go. One of those things has been my focus on my long-term goal of being a great programmer.

I have barely been getting by.

I have had weeks where I have barely gotten anything done. I have felt a great deal of self-hatred and fear about losing my job and independence.

At a certain point it became easy to rest on my credentials. I wrote a book. I was invited by Saul Mora to interview people for NSBrief. I had lots of people who knew who I was. I was given some cache for being a great developer because I had credentials. I didn’t want to think about how little I actually knew because it was too fucking demoralizing to deal with. So I pretended. I even convinced myself that I was as good as I needed to be. I got careless. I stopped trying because it was just too hard to deal with.


I am not doing this any more.

I am tired of what I have been doing for the last year.

The reason I told my long, rambling story at the beginning of this post is because I feel like I am back there now. I feel like I have two choices about how I can proceed from here.

I can either decide that I learned enough and keep hiding behind my credentials. I can learn fast enough to keep up with things, but I won’t ever become the developer I wanted to be. I will have to keep pretending like I know more than I do.

I don’t want to do this anymore.

I want to be very clear about a few things.

Chris wrote most of the book. My name is on the book and I wrote three chapters from the book. I wrote the Debugging, Testing, and Photos chapters. Two of those chapters didn’t really require me to add much to the code base. When I had to tackle the Photos chapter I had to fly out to CocoaConf Boston to work directly with Chris on that chapter because I was not familiar enough with the code base to write the chapter by myself. I needed help with the Core Image code.

Chris worked on the book for two years before I was brought on. I think my presence played an important role in getting the book done. I contributed to the book. But, I feel that I have received more credit for the book than I am due. I haven’t read the book all the way through. I am not comfortable with most of the concepts in that book.

I am tired of waiting around for someone to figure out that cut to the front of the line. I am going to be proactive and admit that I don’t really know that much. I have never written an app of my own. I have focused on some very obscure and esoteric low level programming. For a developer who has only been working for a year and a half, I am fairly advanced. However, I have a long way to go.

I have realized that I have been squandering my opportunity of working with Brad by being too proud and afraid to ask him for help. I have been ignoring things that I don’t understand. Yesterday I asked Brad about what provisioning was. He could have explained it in a sentence. Instead, he took an hour to show me Instruments and how it could be used to analyze one of his projects. I felt like my world went from 2D to 3D. I realized that there was a whole dimension of being a programmer that I used to be aware of and wanted to explore that I had abandoned because I was tired and demoralized and didn’t want acknowledge how little I know. I felt exhilarated and deeply, deeply ashamed.

I do not want to be afraid anymore.

I am working on my own personal application. I am going to do my best to write about that process on this blog. I will be talking about concepts that are probably covered in the book that has my name on it. I will talk about things that most people who have been programming for five years already understand.

I want to go back to the spirit this blog was created in. I created it to document my progress as a student to a professional. True to my roots, I am a perpetual student.

I am going to ask more questions. I am going to delve deeper and try to understand better. I made time for what was important for the first half of this year. Now I need to get back on the track I decided a year and a half ago. I need to stop worrying so much about my exposure or my reputation and worry more about my skills. If my reputation suffers because I want to shore up my weak points, then I probably deserve it. It’s painful to admit that you don’t measure up, but if you won’t accept reality then you can’t change it.

I hope that Brad will continue to be patient with my questions and continue to go the extra mile to expose me to things I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. His commitment to excellence pushes me to be better and even though it is painful sometimes, it is something I asked for that is rare in this day and age.