6667 Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028
by Beau Cadiyo
My friend Frank's son, Frankito, is graduating soon from the University of Dayton. It's obviously an exciting time for him, but it's making me feel...anxious. I mean, fifteen years ago I was in the same position as he is: in the middle of my last semester of school, recently broken up with a girlfriend, and about to be launched into adulthood, while seeing the world as this big, bright, shiny object that just needed me to emerge from the education system and complete its perfection. A decade and a half of experiences later, his transition into the real world is making me put a mirror up to my own life to see if I've lived up to my promise, if I've been the person I hoped I was back then - and, if not, if I've still got a chance to be the man that the great and ambitious youth hoped to some day be.
But more of that in another post. His graduation, like many major life events, is also a time for gifts. I have been mulling over the sorts of things that a young person - particularly a young man in Frankito's shoes - should have in the early stages. I make no claim that this is an exhaustive list, and it is entirely based on my own completely biased opinions of what people should be able to do, and have.
Also, it is all things - mostly inexpensive things - that I think young people should have that they might not think about. On Facebook, I asked people for things they thought graduates should have, and a lot of people suggested experiences, or services. That's fine, but almost nobody will get a graduate an experience or service. They'll buy things. So I asked for things. Also, everyone starting off in an apartment with friends will have a couch, a bed, a table, some chairs. They might have a television; they might have house plants. But beyond that, for the most part, they're going to be lost as to what will make their lives easier, and what sorts of things they should learn about when they're younger so that they can develop skills that serve them for the rest of their lives.
So here's the list. I'll add to it as I think of more things.
Ruhlman's Twenty and Ratio. These books have taught me more regularly applicable life skills than perhaps anything outside of Dale Carnegie (which he already owns). Twenty outlines cooking techniques that, when known and practiced, will pretty much let you take ingredients anywhere in the world and cook them to be at least edible, and more than likely, delicious. Ratio deals with how to take simple ingredients and combine them in ratios to make a huge variety of things, from bread to pancakes to mayonnaise, from scratch. Even if you just learned to braise, make crepes and bread, and whip together mayonnaise, you'd be guaranteed a lifetime of success at dinner parties, and you'd impress any date.
As Seth Godin recently pointed out, however, cooking also provides a lot of lessons/metaphors for life. For example, start with great ingredients. Perfect your techniques. Work hard. If you don't have great ingredients, work with what you have, or use what you DO have to make them better, or adjust your technique. Be flexible. Develop your knowledge and skills to adjust to what the grocery store - or life - provides you. If you can't stand the heat, adjust the heat. Smarter writers than I could add on to this list. I'll stop there.
Cast Iron Skillet/Dutch Oven. The most durable, versatile, and, when found at a yard sale, the cheapest way to outfit a kitchen. Use it on the stove, in the oven, in a campfire; beat it up, re-season it, and keep going. Never wash it. Pass it on to your kids.
The 12 Bottle Bar. More than likely, he's going to drink, so he might as well drink well. In my mind, no book better conveys the fun of mixing cocktails, and the creativity that is available in good bartending, than this one.
An empty bookshelf, soon to be filled. Thomas Carlyle once said, "What we become depends on what we read after all of the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is a collection of books." Frankito, of all young people, understands the importance of continuing his own education; indeed, from some of his recent pronouncements, I get the impression that he realizes that he's only starting to learn. Leaders are readers, and an empty bookshelf, soon to be filled with books that a recent graduate selects, will be a source of pride and beauty and wisdom. Filling it can be done inexpensively with used books; even if it's used to show off one's tastes or knowledge, that's better than showing off more superficial features.
Electric Kettle. For coffee, tea, rice, whatever. The American obsession with stovetop kettles - which require monitoring and wasted heat - is insanity. A better option: this incredible tool that boils water, then automatically shuts off. Bam.
Aeropress. Make espresso-strength or regular-strength coffee. As someone else said, "with an Aeropress, you can make world class coffee on an airplane tray."
A good chef knife - but not a set. In a pinch, this might be the only knife he needs; it should be the only one he has, at least to start out, until he realizes the particular utilities of other individual knives. However, one good chef knife will do him wonders - and it won't clutter up his kitchen.
Travel toiletry Kit. This would include a small bottle of Dr. Bronner's, a travel toothbrush, travel size contact lens solution and a case, a small pack of baby wipes, and a small bottle for aftershave, all things that are useful on a 17-hour plane flight. Razors, deodorant, etc. can all be found on the ground.
Passport. Because international travel is required. Also, he needs one to get to come see me.
Washboard. An odd choice, I know. However, I have found a lot of value in one of these little things for hand-washing clothes, both at home and whilst traveling. It's easier than one might think, your clothes don't take as much of a pounding, and you can get by indefinitely on two or three sets of clothes. Throw in an enamel basin if you're feeling particularly generous.
Gym membership. This, I think, is something they should get themselves, because it's something that they need to pay for and value. If they don't like the gym, then they should get a membership to some physical exercise that they DO enjoy - martial arts, rock climbing, rowing, sailing, a running club, whatever. Use it to meet people, expand social networks, and maintain physical and mental fitness. The most important thing: use it.
A flat of wide mouth mason jars. Use them for water. Beer. Coffee. Tea. Storing lunch. Soup. Salad. Can with them. The lids are all interchangeable. OK, so you can't microwave or bake with them, but these might be some of the best tools in the kitchen. Oh crap, one broke? Replace it. Done.
A Sourdough Starter. In my world, everyone knows how to knead their own bread, and they also know how to make their own starter. The result: bread that tastes of the terroir of their neighbourhood, of the experience of their place, a story and a history in every bite.
Also, the French Dip at the Musso and Frank Grill is exceptional. While the interior is a bit run down, and the servers seemed to have picked up their suits at random from a pile in the back, the French Dip was one of the best I've ever had.