Recipe: Hot and Sour Soup

This is a lighter, vegan take on the Hot and Sour soup you get at Chinese restaurants. It’s a bit spicy, a bit tart from a shot of rice vinegar at the end, and AMAZING for anything that ails you. I tend to make this for friends when they have colds; it’s also nice for a quick dinner on a winter’s night.

The veggies you put in this soup are entirely up to you; the only thing that’s important is the woodear mushrooms, bamboo shoots, garlic and carrots. Aside from that, I’ve used zucchini, broccoli, snow peas, and many other veggies.

For about four people, start with:

  • 1–2 big cloves of garlic
  • 1 carrot, sliced thin
  • 1 small can of bamboo shoots, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 block of firm tofu, cut into smallish chunks or 1/4-inch thick slices
  • any other veggies you want in there

Sauté these in a wok with vegetable oil until the garlic starts to pop, then add:

  • 1 quart veggie stock (I make my own, but Kitchen Basics also works)
  • Rooster Sauce (Vietnamese chili-garlic paste, which has chunks in it, or Sriracha, which is smooth) to taste
  • 1 handful of woodear mushrooms (you can get these at any Asian market)

Turn the heat down and let it simmer for about 10-15 minutes until mushrooms are rehydrated and carrots are soft. Before serving, add

  • 1-2 tbsp seasoned rice vinegar (to taste).

Serve on its own, or with rice.

Recipe: Chocolate Chip Cookies

This recipe is based on the “Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie” recipe in Cook’s Illustrated (May/June 2009), with some modifications. Personally, I prefer a cookie with less sugar than most, so be aware that these are not overly sweet; also, the bit of rye flour is important, because it gives them a lovely texture.

Start with:

  • 1/4 cup rye flour
  • 3/4 cup oat flour (you can buy it at Whole Foods, or take rolled oats and work them through a clean coffee grinder, or Vitamix)
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp chunky salt (Fleur de Sel is nice, but kosher salt will do just fine. Just don’t do something like Morton’s Table Salt. You want the occasional crunchy bite of salt in the cookie)

Sift all of these together in a bowl and let sit. Then, in a sauté pan, melt

  • 10 tbsp unsalted butter

and swirl until the butter starts to brown (about 1-3 minutes). Transfer the butter into a largish glass bowl and add

  • another 4 tbsp unsalted butter

into the browned butter, and whisk until everything’s melted. Now, add:

  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup raw sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg (optional) OR
  • 1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper and a dash of cinnamon (optional)

Whisk this together until it’s fully incorporated, then add:

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk

and continue to whisk until the mixture is smooth, about 30 seconds. Let it sit for 3 minutes, then whisk for another 30 seconds, then let sit again for 3 minutes, then whisk another 30 seconds. For those counting, that’s whisk for 30 seconds 3 times, with 3 minutes between each whisking episode. The mixture should be smooth, thick and shiny, similar to melted caramel sauce.

Add the flour mixture slowly, and stir everything together with a rubber spatula until it just comes together (about 1 minute). Then add

1-1/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cups chopped nuts (if you like)

and mix everything together into a nice, lovely dough.

Now, you can drop them on a cookie sheet covered with a silicon sheet (or parchment paper), about a tablespoon at a time, and bake at 375°F for about 10-14 minutes until the edges are set, but the center’s still soft. Cool on a cookie rack and enjoy.

By the way, these also store really well as dough. Just roll them into balls, put them on a silicon-covered cookie sheet (flatten them a little bit so they’re easier to bake later), and pop them in the freezer until set. Then remove them from the cookie sheet and store in a gallon Ziploc in the freezer until you need them. When you’re ready to make them, bake at 375°F (or in a toaster oven on the “Bakery” setting) for 20–25 minutes.

Research, Eating Behavior, and Media Stupidity

Several weeks ago, the Harvard School of Public Health came out with a study that suggested the more red meat you eat, the more likely you are to die younger. The anti-CAFO lobby has, OF COURSE, jumped on this, claiming that there’s no control for CAFO vs. Grass-Fed meat, therefore the study must be bullshit. Even BETTER, they claim that the only real way to find out if red meat is actually bad for you is to do an experiment.

Because you can totally assign a random group of people to eat meat for twenty years and see who dies. No ethical problem there, right?

Because there totally was such a thing as grass-fed meat, that people knew and cared about, 20 years ago, that they could control for in 20 years of data.

Because this study is obviously trying to turn people vegan.

While I am fully in support of pastured beef, and meat from happy animals, these arguments irritate the hell out of me for some very specific reasons. Mostly, I’m irritated because these arguments have NOTHING TO DO WITH THE ACTUAL RESEARCH THAT WAS DONE.

First of all, the study looked over the course of 20 years, not a few months, and they found specifically that each INCREASE in red meat consumption, particularly process meats, led to an increase in mortality. For example, they found that people who ate a LOT of red meat or processed meat—think 5 or more meals a week—were also more likely to be smokers, have a high BMI, etc. The researchers even go on to suggest that people cut down on their consumption of these foods—note, NOT eliminate them, NOT become vegetarian—but CUT DOWN ON THE DAILY CONSUMPTION OF STEAK AND BACON—in order to reduce their risk of chronic disease.

In other words, they found that people who eat mostly red meat and processed meats aren’t particularly healthy. That’s a “duh” moment if ever I heard one.

But somehow, this has turned into, for some people, a manifesto against all meat, and for some people who eat grass-fed beef, rather than simply showing the abundant evidence that it’s better for you—IN MODERATE AMOUNTS—than feedlot beef, have to jump on the defensive, and attempt to debunk some very interesting findings.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve spent the last several months deeply absorbed in eating behavior research (and may, in fact, spend several more years studying it), but that kind of nonsense gets me really irritated. Primarily because the media loves to turn scientific research into definitive cause-effect relationships (The LA Times reported something like “All Red Meat can Kill You” as their headline for this article), when the research itself is rarely close to definitive, and always notes an ASSOCIATION, NOT A DIRECT EFFECT.

So, to recap: yes, eating pastured beef is better for you than eating beef that comes from Cattle Death Pens. However, that doesn’t mean that living exclusively on steak, meatballs and bacon will EVER BE GOOD FOR YOU. That’s not an argument against all meat; it’s an argument for intelligent and balanced food consumption. If you’re going to make an argument, make *that* one.

Session Notes: Lean UX @ BostonPHP

Presented by: Jeff Gothelf, the Ladders

Principal at Proof, @jboogie,

Lean UX is one solution to the Agile problem

  • Focus on delivery, not deliverables (build SOMETHING)
  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Lean Startup

  • Every startup is a grand experiment that attempts to answer a question: not “CAN I build it,” but “SHOULD I build it?”
  • How do you spend the least amount of time designing/building the wrong thing?
  • Steps:
    • Formulate concept and create minimum level of fidelity to communicate and validate
    • Validate internally: stakeholders, developers, other designers, etc.
    • Prototype: get something out quickly so you can get it in front of customers or proxy customers
    • Test externally: get someone in front of your prototype and see what happens; is it usable? Is it USEFUL?
    • Learn from user behavior
    • Iterate
  • Designers need to step from behind their monitors and show early work much earlier and more often

First five things you need to do in order to make Lean UX happen:

  • Solve the problem together; don’t implement someone else’s solution
    • Bring the team you’re working with further into the process
    • Involve them in ideation and problem solving
    • Build shared understanding, which relieves the focus on deliverables
    • Let people know why certain decisions are being made
    • There’s no reason a developer can’t contribute to the design phase of a product and vice versa
  • Sketch
    • Remember, you’re not DRAWING; you’re sketching ideas together
    • If you can draw a circle, a square and a triangle, you can draw every interface that exists.
    • Work together on sketching and iterating, then work in parallel to build the thing
    • By working together, you don’t need to document things because you’ve already talked about it
  • Prototyping
    • Get your experience out, not the document
    • Validate hypothesis
    • What is the fastest way to get something into peoples’ hands that helps communicate the concept and its usefulness?
      • Axure
      • Straight into code
      • Other prototyping frameworks
  • Pair up cross-functionally
    • designer with developer
    • builds a common language and trust between the pair
    • makes the team more efficient
    • “design in the browser”
    • helps develop working code really quickly
  • Style guides are ESSENTIAL
    • could also be pattern or component libraries
    • make it a living document
    • make accessible to the entire team
    • button styles and logic
    • color palettes
    • default values for drop down menus
    • add code assets where applicable
    • helps the team put things together more quickly over time; assets can be grabbed and “dropped in” to a prototype
  • Critique early and often on designs that don’t feel “finished”
    • Designers have trained their clients to believe that the first thing they see will always be beautiful and “right”
    • NOBODY gets it right the first time, and nobody else is expected to.
    • It’s about getting concepts out early, and moving towards the “right” solution based on validated learning
  • It’s not the “Spec” that gives control
    • Lead with conversation, trail with documentation
    • designers are there to lead and facilitate the design process
  • Keep everyone moving forward
    • Provide team members with insight into the design process
    • Build momentum and engagement
    • Build shared understanding

How to manage quality vs. speed

  • “Speed first, aesthetics second” — Jason Fried, 37Signals
  • “It’s not iterative if you only do it once”
  • Iterations mean quality continually improves.
  • Move from minimally viable (simply works) to minimally desirable (works well, looks good, people want it)
  • Once you’ve validated your concepts, demo to the team
    • get them started building on a parallel path while you work on exception cases

Everything you put out into the world is a hypothesis. Your goal is to validate that hypothesis as quickly as possible and learn from the results.

  • Lean UX builds user testing into every sprint cycle
  • Don’t build things that people don’t want
  • Use data to settle subjective issues
    • A/B testing
    • Qualitative testing (user testing, etc.)
    • Use qualitative data to find out what people prefer; use A/B testing to validate that they prefer it.
  • Fill in the gaps through shared understanding
    • the more you talk about it, the better people understand why decisions were made, and more easily they can put the pieces together.
    • allows for estimation and prioritization within the flow of the building the project
  • Form factor is ultimately irrelevant
    • Many ways to test hypothesis
    • Testing doesn’t have to be expensive

Lean UX is NOT

  • Lazy. You still have to work hard, perhaps even more than what you did before
    • Collaboration level is significantly increased
    • What’s being removed is the WASTE that comes from the traditional UX process
    • Using the right tool at the right time
  • Design by committee
    • Yes, you’re involving other people, but it’s the DESIGNER’s job to synthesize that info into a concrete design

Getting started: in-house

  • Start small on an internal project
  • Ask for forgiveness
  • As you build camaraderie and start seeing results, others will start to notice and build interest
  • You are in the business of solving problems; you don’t solve problems with design documentation

Getting started: startups

  • This is the way to go, particularly in B2C

Getting started: interactive services/agency world

  • It’s a tougher sell, because agencies are in the deliverables business.
  • Give your clients the power. They like that.
    • Concept
    • Validate with client
    • Iterate
    • Validate with client
    • Prototype
    • Learn from user behavior
  • Can you get to the clients’ customers, or a similar proxy?
  • Gives clients the ability to see their “fingerprints” in the work; increases ownership.
  • Prevents “seagull management” — “swoop in and poop on it” — they can’t blame the agency anymore
  • Builds a more collaborative, less adversarial, relationship with clients

Getting started: Consultants

  • Consultants are mini-agencies

Distributed teams


  • With content heavy experiences, some up front planning is necessary
    • Must understand what those content blocks will be, where they come from, and what they’ll contain
  • Highly experiential consumer sites may suffer under lean; hard to gauge experience with a usability test
  • Letting people into the design process makes them realize that design is HARD
  • Designers must evolve in order to stay relevant