New and Old #100
Friday roundup and commentary
The Staying Power of New Jersey’s Family-Owned Department Stores, New Jersey Monthly, Barbara Leap, December 3, 2021
This is a really nice piece on a handful of local New Jersey department stores that have survived the great department store winnowing. Of the three mentioned, I’ve only heard of one, because it’s five minutes from where I grew up (and I wrote about it, too)! Check it out.
Blue Ridge Blight on Afton Mountain, Sometimes Interesting
Sometimes Interesting is one of those blogs I could practically have written. The fellow behind it does these really neat deep dives on commercial history (he had a great piece on the history of Howard Johnson’s, for example.) From this piece:
Don’t expect to see a change in ownership anytime soon. When Dulaney was asked if he would consider selling his property in the Blue Ridge Mountains, he said he would not, and that the former motor court “is like one of my children.”
This property, off the Blue Ridge Parkway and I-64 between Staunton/Waynesboro and Charlottesville in Virginia, is notorious. (It pops up all the time on Virginia Facebook groups and always spurs heavy commenting.) Read the piece for an overview of what was there and what it looked like then and now. It’s interesting how quickly our modern civilization can produce ruins.
Like so many longtime owners of decaying commercial properties, its owner refuses to sell. It seems inexplicable, doesn’t it? That allowing it to to completely fall apart is okay, but selling it is heartbreaking?
Also check out this post by Ben Schumin, another very interesting built-environment writer/photographer, on the Afton Mountain properties.
How ‘Buy Nothing’ Groups Bring Locals Together … And Tear Them Apart, DCist, Colleen Grablick, Februry 21, 2023
In yet another instance, someone posted in search of fishing poles. Someone commented that the Department of Energy and the Environment had a fishing pole lending program, and the post was immediately removed. Others have been tripped up by a rule that acronyms, like ‘ISO’ meaning “in search of,” or FFPU “free for pick up” are also technically illegal. (The thinking goes they may be exclusionary for newcomers who don’t know what they mean.)
This could also be about book clubs, or HOA meetings, or any other objectively unimportant thing that breeds self-righteous, petty tyrants. It’s an entertaining read, and a very human one. You can laugh at the excesses but you can also see yourself possibly committing them.
Food snobs look down on the air fryer. Here’s why they’re wrong, San Francisco Chronicle, Soleil Ho, June 23, 2022
For years, those who considered themselves to be serious about food eschewed cooking gadgets, diminishing them as terrible substitutes for “real” cooking skills. On his long-running cooking show, “Good Eats,” Alton Brown popularized the idea that “unitaskers,” or trendy gadgets with just one function, might as well be useless.
Meredith Laurence, a cooking instructor and kitchen product developer who’s authored two air frying cookbooks, sees that sentiment as an extension of the elitism she experienced in her time in traditional restaurant kitchens. “I believe that if there’s a unitasking item in your kitchen that you use everyday, go for it. Why would you not? My shower only showers me,” she pointed out. She says that most of the home cooks she encounters through her work aren’t afflicted with that sense of absolutism and are instead open to using tools that simply make cooking easier.
This is a good point; those single-use gadgets are frequently pretty useless—at least, I cook daily and I find that to generally be true—but it isn’t because they’re single-use gadgets. It’s more because they’re poorly designed: tricky to use, difficult to clean or assemble/disassemble, mediocre at performing their tasks, etc. (Take a look at this video series from Epicurious hosted by a kitchen gadget designer for a really detailed look into this.)
I generally find a very good cutting board, knife set, and set of pots and pans to be sufficient for cooking. But there are gadgets—small food processor, pizza cutter, sous vide machine, box grater, flexible ice cube tray—that I also love using. Just because something is trendy or popular, that doesn’t mean it’s not truly useful! That is a kind of elitism.
There are now numerous Facebook groups devoted to swapping air fryer tips and tricks, some with memberships that rival the populations of small cities. While you could certainly stick to fried potatoes and fish sticks, these groups are brain trusts that have teased out the appliance’s versatility through experimentation….[Meredith] Laurence has also done a lot of groundwork to prove that the air fryer isn’t like any other gimmicky appliance. She’s developed recipes for surprising air-fried dishes like cheesecake, for instance, and wrote in her newsletter that she often uses her machine multiple times in a single day.
The idea that our understanding of the tool limits its usefulness is a really important, widely applicable point.
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