Introducing #ArtShopaholism and #BiblioShopaholism

I feel the need to introduce two new (I think) hashtags with a related vibe to #Procrastibaking–that bad habit where you bake some elaborate cookie/cake/ instead of cooking a healthy dinner or cleaning the house.

#ArtShopaholism: Not actually making art but, instead, shopping and/or obsessing over art supplies. I’ve found drawing useful, but it’s a skill you have to practice in order to get any good at. To counter this I’m only allowing myself to draw with whatever crappy ballpoint pen I have on me. No thinking about, buying or obsessing over having the “right” pen pencil or sketchpad.

#BiblioShopaholism: Shopping for books rather than:

A) Picking them up at the public library.
B) Reading.

Our Radioactive Cat

We have two senior cats. One of those cats, Buck, has had a lot of health issues over the years, including heart problems, digestive issues and a blood clot. He’s likely on eight of his nine lives and can add another health problem to his long list: hyperthyroidism.

Thankfully this can be fixed with an expensive radioactive iodine therapy. He’s such a sweet cat that I thought we owed him a chance, plus the alternative treatments, a special diet or pills, just won’t work well for him.

Waiting for food.

Radioactive iodine therapy involves one shot and several days at a treatment facility to let the radioactivity levels subside. It doesn’t cause the cat any pain, but they can’t be around people or other animals for a few days. When he gets back we have to minimize contact with him for awhile and scoop out his litter into a bucket that has to sit for a few weeks before we can dispose of it.

I’ve never been to a vet as organized and efficient as the folks doing this treatment, Advanced Veterinary Medical Imaging in Tustin. They send a daily spreadsheet update, call frequently and there’s even a webcam in Buck’s cage which has allowed us to watch him beg for food and hide from the vet techs. I really wish our human health system in the country spent a little more money on communicating with patients and families. It would make life easier for everyone including our overworked doctors and nurses.

Mr. Buck came to us over a decade ago as a kitten from a neighbor who found him unconscious in a driveway. I feel privileged to have lived with this feline in all his ups and downs and when the time came to make the decision on this treatment I didn’t think about it long. We’re fortunate to be able to afford it and I felt an obligation to make whatever time we have left with him as comfortable as possible.

Until this absence this week, I didn’t fully realize what a presence he is, the way he bosses the dog, the other cat and even us around. The house is haunted by his absence, by the way he bangs on the window by the bed to wake me up at 5:30 for breakfast, his nocturnal zooms and his conspicuous midday napping.

I Made a Coffee Sandwich

You know those days when you spend many hours baking some ridiculous dessert instead of preparing a healthy dinner? I just learned that there’s a hashtag on Instagram for this, “#Procrastibaking” which is what I did recently, in the most decadent and absurd way possible, when I asked ChatGPT to come up with a “coffee sandwich.”

First, the backstory. There’s a long gone bánh mì, Pho and filtered water shop called Lu Sub that used to sit between a pet food store and a laundromat on the Glendale Boulevard traffic sewer in Silver Lake. Their sign promised “Coffee-Sandwich Drinking Water.” A friend and I used to speculate about what a “coffee sandwich” would consist of every time we went past the place.

It took may years but I decided this month to bring some closure to this idle speculation. I based my prompt on the dessert sandwiches I ate on our recent trip to Japan. Typically, those sandwiches consist of a fruit and whipped cream filling served on fluffy Japanese milk bread called Hokkaido (北海道). I guess I could have invented a savory coffee sandwich (maybe pork with a coffee rub?), but instead I decided to go down the sweet path:

Me: Create a Japanese style dessert sandwich using bread with a coffee filling
ChatGPT: Certainly! Here’s a recipe for a Japanese-style dessert sandwich featuring bread with a delicious coffee filling:

Japanese Coffee Cream Sandwich

Ingredients:

For the coffee cream filling:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons brewed coffee, cooled
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules (optional, for extra coffee flavor)

For the sandwich:

  • 8 slices of Japanese milk bread (or any soft bread of your choice)
  • Butter, softened (for spreading)

Instructions:

  1. In a mixing bowl, beat the heavy cream with powdered sugar until stiff peaks form.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the brewed coffee with the instant coffee granules until dissolved. Then fold this coffee mixture into the whipped cream until well combined. Set aside.
  3. Take two slices of Japanese milk bread and spread a thin layer of softened butter on one side of each slice.
  4. On one slice of bread, spread a generous amount of the coffee cream filling.
  5. Place the other slice of bread on top to create a sandwich, butter side facing outwards.
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 with the remaining slices of bread and coffee cream filling, until you have 4 sandwiches in total.
  7. Optionally, you can trim off the crusts of the sandwiches for a more traditional Japanese-style presentation.
  8. Serve the sandwiches immediately, or chill them in the refrigerator for a firmer texture.
  9. Enjoy your Japanese Coffee Cream Sandwiches as a delightful and unique dessert or snack!

Chat GPT even delivered an editorial statement about the sandwich: “These sandwiches offer a perfect balance of soft and fluffy Japanese milk bread with a creamy and flavorful coffee filling, creating a delightful treat with a touch of Japanese culinary flair.”

I followed the recipe to the letter and made my own Hokkaido bread based on this recipe from King Arthur. Here’s what the completed coffee sandwich looked like:
And guess what? It’s was really, really delicious, the perfect balance of sweet and creamy with a coffee-forward flavor. Now if I wanted to refine this a bit more, I’d probably just look up a coffee frosting recipe and, perhaps, add some chocolate. The ChatGPT version was a bit too watery.
Naturally, instead of the hard work of refining this recipe, I decided to create a fake ad for my new coffee sandwich using Microsoft 365 and got this fairly convincing result:

The AI decided to add some mint and what looks like Nutella.

I spun the AI dice again and got another convincing ad depicting a thick coffee sandwich this time toasted and garnished with random chestnuts.

To head to a sidebar and editorialize for a moment, I’m finding AI useful for a few things: getting out of a stuck place during a creative project, math problems while doing carpentry, and filling out bureaucratic forms that are about style rather than substance (and that nobody will actually ever read). We’re in the midst of an AI hype cycle that many think will go bust soon leaving the technology for what it’s good for, things such as medical imaging, pharmaceutical development, and combinatorial analysis. It will likely be a component of products rather than an end in itself and it requires extensive guard rails and expensive coding in order to, for instance, not spout racist garbage or prevent legitimate queries about racism. Listen to this podcast episode for a nuanced discussion of the problems and benefits of AI

While I’d really love to tinker with this recipe and develop a thicker frosting I have to put aside the #Procrastibaking towards the goal of keeping off the fifteen pounds of pandemic pounds I lost recently. But I’d welcome any of you who want to take of the challenge of perfecting the coffee sandwich and taking it to market.

Special thanks to Sandwiches of History for the inspiration of using AI to create a recipe.

Here’s the Yelp for the now closed Lu Subs. While I’m not a fan of Yelp I find it useful as a kind of museum of long closed businesses.