Sep 282015
 

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Today is Ask a Stupid Question Day, a holiday that is sometimes celebrated in the United States, usually by school students and teachers, but is spreading to various other countries including the U.K. and India. Although Ask a Stupid Question Day’s default date is September 28, in practice it is often observed on the last school day of September. This holiday was created by teachers in the 1980s to encourage students to ask more questions in the classroom. According to HolidayInsights.com, “at the time, there was a movement by teachers to try to get kids to ask more questions in the classroom. Kids sometimes hold back, fearing their question is stupid, and asking it will result in ridicule.” Seems like a good idea in principle, if not in practice.

You will often hear teachers say something like, “there are no stupid questions.” Well, I don’t agree, but I get the intention. Everyone has to learn even the simplest things somehow, at some point. Being afraid to ask means you don’t learn, and if the fear persists you end up with great gaps in your knowledge. In class I’ll answer any question, and keep it to myself if I think the student should know the answer. What’s the point of spending 90 minutes talking about polygyny if half the class does not know the meaning of the word “polygyny,” even if it is defined in assigned reading? Of course, in such a case I’d almost certainly define the word before rambling on about it, but you get the general point. I use words (and concepts) all the time that I assume my students understand, and I won’t be any the wiser unless they speak up and tell me they do not understand. So, in that sense it is a teacher’s duty to hold fast to the rule that there are no stupid questions.

It is also the case that what appears to be a stupid question turns out to be profound when looked at in the right light, and can lead to important discoveries. Be sure to read my recipe for today, even if you normally skip it, because I elaborate on this idea there. Asking good questions even if the answer seems to be obvious at first blush is what drives us forward. That said, there are occasions when people ask the dumbest things. Take, for example, the department store customer who goes up to a person dressed in a company shirt and wearing a name tag and asks “do you work here?” To which the reply should be, “no, I just wear this outfit because I think the colors suit me.”

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Such questions and answers have led to a whole genre of comedy labeled “here’s your sign,” popularized by Bill Engvall, Tony Foxworthy, and company.

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This leads me to my recipe of the day.  I found this question online.  It is captioned, “This may be a stupid question, but . . .” That line, I find, is very frequent, excusing the enquirer to a degree.

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I’m making a Japanese Cotton Cheesecake and I’m following the recipe on the link attached. I’ve volunteered for an event to make 9 of these cakes by Sunday! I’ve bought all my supplies & I’m trying to consolidate how many I’m making at one time. I’ve bought a square Aluminum Cake Pan from Target by Nordic Ware, that holds about at least 3 of the recipes’ batters. I’m not sure how good this cake pan is, I just bought it on a whim. My question is should I follow the recipe on temperature and length of baking, or do I adjust due to the variables & by how much for making 3 all together in one pan??

I do have the springform pans listed in the recipes, but I’d only be able to do 2 at the time which will take me a VERY long time, as I only have one big enough base pan to hold the water.

Also what’s the best way to bring cream cheese, butter, and eggs to room temp? Thanks for any replies!

There appear to be two stupid questions here; one of them is, and one of them is not. Let’s begin with the major question about springforms. I understand that the inquirer, who I assume is a woman, read the recipe thoroughly — although there is some doubt.  It expressly calls for a springform pan. So why would you go out and buy regular pans? She says she has only one pan to hold the water that the cakes sit in whilst baking.  Why not go out and buy another to hold the water instead of buying a completely different cake pan that is untested, and not called for in the recipe? Cheesecakes need a springform pan so that you can get them out without having to turn them upside down. No matter what she does with the temperature, the cake is fragile enough that it will fall apart when turned out if baked in a regular pan.  Fortunately, many people gave that answer, and they were too polite to add — FOLLOW THE RECIPE, IDIOT !!! When it comes to soups and stews you can be a bit cavalier, but generally not with baking.

The second part about bringing the ingredients to room temperature is not as stupid as it may first appear. I mean, it does have its stupid side.  If you read the recipe all the way through (as you should before you begin anything new) it very clearly states:

As the cream cheese, eggs and butter need to be at room temperature, advanced planning is required. About 2 hours before making the cake, remove the cream cheese and butter from the refrigerator.  About 1 hour before take the eggs out of the fridge.  The cream cheese and butter should be soft and spreadable for this recipe.  If these ingredients are not quite ready, pop them in the microwave on Low power for about 15-20 seconds.

Eggs are easiest to separate when they are cold.  Egg whites are best beaten at room temperature to achieve the fluffiest texture.   You can separate the eggs while they are cold and then let them come to room temperature as you prep the remaining ingredients for the recipe.

Seem clear enough to me — very precise. But here’s the catch: what is “room temperature”? What if you live in an igloo or a hut near the equator? I know what you are going to say — “common sense” should tell you. Do you have to explain everything? Well, in a sense you do. When you write a recipe you make assumptions concerning what your readers know. I’m a very experienced cook, so when I see a new recipe I usually need to know just the ingredients and some basic ideas.  I can take it from there.  If you’ve followed many of my recipes you’ll see that I often give no more than a bare outline, on the assumption that you know what you are doing. If I say “brown the meat” I don’t have to say “on all sides” because I assume that you know that. If you are a novice, maybe you don’t know that.

Companies that publish cookbooks regularly have guidelines concerning how recipes should be written. Sometimes, for example, they will tell you to list the ingredients in the order in which you use them, and to give the quantities and temperatures in metric AND imperial measures. In this blog I do that sometimes, and at other times I don’t. You can always ask about something in a comment if you are unsure.  I also have a HINTS tab which can help. Nonetheless, I am not sure that I’ve ever seen “room temperature” defined. I know from experience that for butter this means “not hard as a brick.” I’d guess that room temperature means roughly 70°F/21°C to 80°F/27°C, so why not spell it out somewhere? Maybe you don’t need to do this in the recipe itself, but it wouldn’t hurt to stick it in an appendix.

Let’s give everyone a break on this day. Please remember that ignorance is not the same thing as stupidity, and is not a sign of weakness.  “Ignoramus” is Latin for “we do not know.” It was what juries told the judge when they could not decide on a case in the days when Latin was used in judicial cases (still is to a degree).  Did you know that?

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