Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How We Decide

I just finished the book How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer.  You might know him from the book Proust Was a Neuroscientist, which I absolutely LOVED.  This book was along those lines, but not quite as in depth as I would have liked.

How We Decide turns our attention to what are brains are doing when we are making a decision.  How when we go with our gut, our brains seamlessly provide the excuses for our decision, and how often times our emotions know the answer to a tough problem before our brains have picked up on the reasoning.

Things I learned:
  •  In the long run, randomly selected stock portfolios will beat experts and computer models and the best strategy is to pick a low-cost index fund and wait.  Do nothing.
  • Don't think about the technical aspects of doing what you already know how to do (think playing the piano or playing golf)
  • Too much information in many situations hampers decision making.  Our attention cannot focus on what is important to us and may make decisions on things that SOUND important.
  • Watch out for back surgery.  Most patients get better on their own.
  • Neurons mirror the movements of other people.  If you see someone else smile, then your mirror neurons will light up s if you were smiling.  Isn't that nice?
  • Just looking at a fancy or expensive item without the intent to buy, makes you primed to buy something less expensive.  Window shopping is DANGEROUS.
  • Political pundits are more often wrong than those that don't claim to be experts. (thank goodness!)
While the book really started to get interesting just as I reached the end (and it was hard to tell on my kindle with the footnotes and acknowledgements), I did enjoy it and look forward to reading more about the same subject as well as more by this author.

Things I am going to keep in mind:  I'm going to try to think LESS about the decisions that are very important to me, since my emotions can handle those and I'm going to think MORE [rationally] about the small decisions that don't mean as much to me.  We have to make decisions without all the information and Lehrer advises to always remind ourselves of what we don't know.  I'll let you know how it goes.

(My new favorite quote is now, "Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on my dopamine neurons."  Hee hee!  You see.... it's FUNNY.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

El Ideas - a fourteen course meal

Always a fan of creative cooking, Chicago businesses and expensive things, and consistently game for experiencing all three at once, I went with my sister to celebrate her birthday at El Ideas, a small, wonderful, backstreet, laid-back, extremely fun Chicago restaurant. 

The dinner courses proceeded as follows:


A kohlrabi soup with dehydrated olives, chorizo and pepper


layere uni pudding, basmati rice seasoned with yogurt, a crab roulade, lemongrass leaves, a lychee disc topped with ossetra caviar. This is all surrounded in a lychee foam. Freeze dried strawberry is sifted over the top

Cucumber *

Centered around cucumber, with three separate preparations; smoked, pickled, and a gel.  Accompanied by wild char roe, smoked trout, and creme fraiche

Grouper *

Peas cooked in bacon fat, a pea puree, pickled carrots, glazed carrots, mortadella, melted green garlic and mint


[No picture.  Apparently we were busy EATING!]

The Rillette is wrapped in a sheet of pickled turnip to make a cannelloni.  The liver is sous vide with shallot and port, then sieved and whipped with butter to make a light mousse.  Hakuri Turnips are poached in butter and set on the plate, and the dish is finished with mandarin cells and small turnip greens

Fava *

Fava beans are served as a puree and as a salad along with artichokes (shaved and cooked in verjus and dehydrated chips), a serpentine of ricotta and mascarpone cheese, a pudding made with the incredible citroen vinegar from Huilerie Beaujolais, and frizzled rabbit. Lavender enters the scene in aroma only which is poured as a tea tableside over dry ice


Granny Smith apple sorbet and then built a roasted peanut sauce that is seasoned with a bourbon barrel aged soy sauce. Peanut brittle serves as a bed for the sorbet and fresh thyme serves as a great bridge for the flavors

Foie Gras

The liver is cured and made into a mousse, onion is represented in the forms of chive, shallot jam and dehydrated onion.  Freeze dried, seedling farms pickled cherries and rainbow oxalis finish the plate

Ham & Cheese

Benton’s ham with cocoa nibs and Swiss chard. Fontina cheese, and mojo nuts (brought in a couple of weeks earlier from their forager, Dave Odd)


[Again - no picture!  Must have been having a good time!]

coffee streusle with almond flour and coffee, a coffee pudding, and the sauteed sweetbreads are glazed with coffee to finish.  pureed dried apricots for sweetness and fried sage for some herbal notes

Maitake *

Grilled scallion relish, sunchoke is prepared as a puree, a baked chip, and a hash, pecorino cheese, peppercress, and crispy maitake mushrooms


frog legs / malted barley / beer jam / braised sauerkraut / pork belly / red curry

Beef *

rhubarb / celery / black walnuts / ramps / black trumpet mushrooms / hook’s blue cheese / grape must
Wagyu striploin from Strube Ranch


Blueberry compote, orange juice fluid gel, buttermilk panna cotta, froot loop ice cream

Movie Snacks

homemade whoppers, black popcorn with extra topping, pretzles, raisinets made with vine ripened raisins, Coca Cola bubbles, and a Twizzler ice cream

The dishes created by chef Kevin McMullen were definitely my favorite.  There are several of these that I'm just going to HAVE to try to make at home (of course they just won't be as beautiful)!  The trout was fantastic (I thought I didn't like trout).  The fava dish was also great.  Gonna have to work on that!  Or....... I'll just go back sometime soon.  Let me know if you're interested in joining me!

(Kudos also to Bill, the dining room manager for organizing everyone's wines impressively and making things cozy, comfortable and seamless.  Aside from the fancy display for each dish, when I recreate some of these items at home, I'll definitely be missing the ambiance that Bill created!)