Things that captured my attention

  • Cleaning cast iron pans for lazy people

    Cast iron pans have seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years and for good reasons. They are a great tool, they last forever, they are affordable, and they are healthier than teflon alternatives. Plus, they exude some always popular nostalgic, vintage vibes. Win, win.

    Anyways, the internet at large will tell you in one sentence that “cast iron skillets are bulletproof” and in the next sentence explain to you how critical it is that you care for it in the exact right way. To be fair, some this advice is warranted as the way to clean one is different than a normal non-stick pan.

    But a lot of the advice out there is high effort, low return in my opinion. The chemistry of cast iron seasoning suggests using flax seed oil1, The Alton Brown method recommends cleaning with kosher salt2, and Lodge even makes a product designed for scraping their pans3.

    Here is what I recommend after years of tinkering around

    • Get yourself some sort of steel scouring or scrubbing pad - like this one.
    • Never use soap
    • Run the pan under water and scrub the hell out of it using said pad (use the same pad for as long as possible, mine has been going strong for over a year so far)
    • Take the wet pan and immediately put it on a hot burner on the stove to dry

    Here is why this works. The scrubbing pad accumulates lots of grease after a few uses. So while it is removing food particles, it is also smearing oil around the pan. By drying the pan over heat, you’re doing a sort of mini-seasoning every time and eliminating any risk of rusting.

    Lastly, and most importantly – this approach works because it is easy and quick. Once you know you can quickly and easily clean the pan then you will use it more. Using it more and more helps the pan build up layers of oil that have bonded into the metal over time. The best cast iron pans are always the ones getting the most use. Ask your grandmother.

    Is this the perfect technique? No, probably not. But I can clean a cast iron skillet in a few moments without any hassle and it is always in good shape the next time I go to use it. Good enough for me. The salt technique took too much time. Rubbing oil into the pan with a paper towel tends to leave some paper fibers behind on the pan, which ends up making things stick. Keep it simple. Metal on metal. Dry over high heat. Done.

    Note: you should definitely still properly season your pan from time to time. This is just for day to day upkeep.

    1. Flax seed oil never worked very well for me despite spending a lot of time being very particular in trying to get it right. It ended up giving my pan an uneven, tacky surface. 

    2. You’ll get sick of this method as you continue to pour more salt into the pan to try for a third time to scape off the stubborn last bits in your pan (and you want there to be stubborn bits – searing things on high heat is one of the great joys of using cast iron in the first place). 

    3. They are okay but somewhat flimsy and the edge will inevitably melt if you clean the pan while it is warm (and, you know, easiest to clean…). 

  • App recommendation: Libby

    I’ve been using Libby for the past month and it’s been great. As a general rule, I don’t worry too much about spending money on books but having such easy access to books I can borrow for free is nothing to sniff at. I haven’t tried borrowing an audiobook yet but excited to give that a spin soon.

    Pro tip: if you’re a resident of Massachusetts then you can get an e-card from the Boston Public Library website without ever stepping foot in the building.

    But you do need to have a library card to get started using the app.

    Unsurprisingly, most items that I want to borrow have a waiting list but I’ve just been indiscriminately placing holds on things so I have a steady queue that’s becoming available. So far, it hasn’t been an issue at all. If anything, I’m unable to keep up with things.

    My only complaints so far (to be fair, I’d bet most of these are beyond their control)…

    • You can only search one library collection at a time. A universal search across all libraries I’ve added would be amazing.
    • I wish there was some way to integrate with my Goodreads “want to read” shelf so I could easily see what is available in the library collections automatically instead of having to search title by title, trial and error style.
    • Sending the ebook to your Kindle locks the loan period with no option to renew your loan. So basically if you don’t finish the book within the loan window then you lose access, which means if the book has a queue then you have to get back in line to borrow it again. A pretty unfortunate experience for the most popular ebook reader. That said, the loan period seems to require a network connection to be enforced on your device… so if your Kindle happens to find itself in Airplane mode then…
      • Note: I only mention this because the book is marked as returned in the Libby app so I don’t believe this “trick” negatively affects any other uses. If I’m wrong on this, please let me know.

  • "It's the case stupid" aka my AirPod review

    I’ve owned a pair of AirPods for a month now and I’ve enjoyed them much more than I ever expected. I concede that they look a little goofy and are on the expensive end of the spectrum. But those are really my only main complaints. And, to be fair, when you really look at other bluetooth headphone options, they all look goofy in some way. They sound better than the normal EarPods and generally exceed my non-audiophile needs. I don’t know if it’s the lack of “cord weight” (as some have speculated) or a slightly different shape but they stay in my ears remarkably well. For me, they feel more secure than EarPods by a significant margin. I’ve run on a treadmill in them with no issues. In fact, the only time I can recall them falling out of my ears is when I’ve bumped them while taking off a t-shirt. Pairing them with my devices was painless and switching between using them with my MacBook Pro and iPhone 6s is trivial. Auto pause when you remove one pod is cool and useful trick. The double tap controls, while limited, have generally seemed sufficient.

    But, for me, it really does all come down to the case. After the first few days, I’ve completely stopped worrying about the battery life and charging in general. I store them in case when not in use and I plug the case into a charger here and there as it’s convenient. That’s it. My Kindle is the only other electronic device where I feel so laissez faire about charging. It seems like a small thing but it really reframes my thinking from “this is a device I have to consciously manage” to “this is a tool I use.” And, in the one situation when I did find my AirPods almost out of juice, the fast charging got them from ~5% to ~30% in a few minutes.

    The other, maybe more important, aspect of the case is that it has led to almost constantly carrying my AirPods with me. There, of course, was nothing preventing me from carrying around corded EarPods day to day but having the cord get tangled or bunched up in my pockets was enough of a deterrent. It is simply more convenient to carry the case and I find myself doing it more often.

    In terms of small gripes…

    • Using the AirPod microphone for video calls on my laptop has given me a slight echo a few times.
    • Not AirPod specific, but I wish iOS was better as resuming playback from third party apps after 30+ minutes of idleness. It’s really annoying to try to resume playing a podcast only to end up with a random song on Apple Music instead. I assume this has something to do with memory or battery optimization but it takes away from the user experience in a material way.
    • Not realistic but I wish the case where somehow a bit thinner.
    • Switching from using both AirPods to a single AirPod is a little clunky but not that common of a use case either.