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BVC Eats: A Quantifiable Kitchen (and a recipe)

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates

Just around the corner from us is asuburban home that has actually appeared on Google Maps as “The Quantified House”. It is inhabited (inevitably: this is Silicon Valley, after all) by techbros, and they use All The Apps There Are to measure everything that is measurable: their exercise regimes, their heartbeats and sleeping patterns, their nutrition, their working hours and the methods they use to stay focused, so on and so forth, all of it. And, of course, they record it all in spreadsheets and reports.

That is not and never will be me, obvs. I cannot be that disciplined & organised, and nor would I want to be. I have from time to time enjoyed and found usefulness in recording my daily word- or page-count, in one way or another; it helps to keep me honest if I have a target to achieve and records to beat. At the moment I’m not setting myself any targets at all, though, so those habits have more or less lapsed. I do still keep an eye on the numbers, just to know where I am in the piece, but it’s a wayward kind of eye that just nods and shrugs and moves on.

I have sometimes enjoyed tracking the number of steps I take in a week and the distance covered, but I’ve never kept a record or tried to up the numbers. It amuses me that I have a summer weight and a winter weight, and I like to watch the scales shift back and forth over time. M’wife and I keep a cheerful eye on the car’s odometer, so that we can share when it rolls by significant or symmetrical figures. I used to keep a diary, but I haven’t for decades and I destroyed the volumes that I did have.

You get the picture: casually entertained by numbers, occasionally curious about patterns, willing to use numerical incentives, but not really devoted to these pursuits. Really not.


There is no saying how long this is going to last, but right now, little by little and week by week, my kitchen is becoming not only more quantifiable, but also more quantified. I spent much of December cleaning, sorting, throwing out and/or reorganising almost everything, and then deploying the new labelmaker; this month, I have started keeping records.

First came the sourdough notebook. I’ve been making sourdoughs for twenty years or more, on two separate continents; but I seriously wanted to up my sourdough game, so this year I am refining the process bake by bake, and writing down every detail of every loaf.

That was followed fairly swiftly by another notebook, which serves to record what I make for dinner each day, where to find the base recipe if there was one, or else a basic description, specified ingredients, enough for me to be able to recreate it, more or less.

Now I have one more notebook, the Larder Book (these last two are stone notebooks: their paper is literally made of stone – limestone, I think? – and is waterproof and greaseproof; guess why I bought them for my kitchen?). Thus far, it opens with a list of everything in the freezer above the fridge, more or less in storage order, so I know what I have and where to find it. Soon I will add a page for the chest freezer, and then I’ll start to document the cabinets and shelving. Again, to know what I have and where to find it. It’s never going to be as sorted as a professional kitchen, but compared to my previous almost-total-lack-of-system (I had my spices alphabetised! but honestly, that was pretty much it, many things were lost for many years, etc), it’s a miracle of modern engineering. As is the variable-temperature kettle I took possession of yesterday, so that I can actually brew my numerous teas at their appropriate temperatures, mix up my bread doughs ditto, etc. Seriously quantifiable.

Thank you for your attention; it’s been amusingly meta, quantifying my quantifiability. Now, here’s the main event:

Doña Sofia’s Candied Alchemical Orange Peel

So you do it like this.

Get your thick-rinded oranges such as navels, and peel them. Slice the peels into convenient chunks or strips. (eat the insides.)

Submerge the peels in cold salted water and bring it to a boil. Boil hard for a minute or so, and drain. Then submerge them in cold water again and again bring them to a boil, this time for five minutes. Drain once more, and then return to the pot with:

(This is for five or six oranges)

equal parts sugar and water, about two cups of each

2 cinnamon sticks

6 crushed cardamom pods

2 dried piquin chili peppers

a quarter of a vanilla bean

2 star anise heads

5 slices of fresh ginger

Bring all this to a boil, stir it, and simmer it very softly, stirring occasionally, until the peels are translucent–about three or five hours. Then pour in a half cup of brandy, stir, and simmer again for an hour or so.

At this point, use a slotted spoon to lay the candied peels on racks to dry (over parchment paper, newspaper, or baking sheets) and ignore them until tomorrow.

Tomorrow, you will toss them in sugar (possibly into which has been grated some orange zest) and then, if you like, swirl them in melted chocolate.


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