John Hodgman, Author of Medallion Status
Cool Tools Show 200: John Hodgman
Our guest this week is John Hodgman. John is a writer, performer, former PC, once the resident expert on the Daily Show, and now the author of two books of non-fake facts and true stories from his life, Vacationland and Medallion Status. You can find him at Twitter @hodgman and on Instagram @johnhodgman.
Lodge Sportman’s Grill ($85)
I recently was gifted by my wife, Katherine Fletcher, a Lodge Sportsman Grill. It is a big hunk of cast iron. It is what I grew up calling a hibachi, which is a misnomer for a kind of Japanese style grill, but it is a small, self contained, cast iron, charcoal grill. We live on the first floor and we have a little garden area behind our apartment. So, I wanted something that wouldn’t take up too much space, just so that I could occasionally make a steak without setting off the fire alarm in our apartment, and this thing has been so satisfying. I love cooking with cast iron because, while it is not actually a very good conductor of heat, it’s a good retainer of heat. What you’re going to do is you’re going to put it on a table in your backyard. The whole thing gets very hot, so you want to be safe, and you want to keep it on something that won’t burn. Then, there are all these super dense hardwood charcoals that you can get. I don’t like the regular lump briquettes. They’re sort of compressed sawdust. You want to get natural hardwood charcoal. They’re really good, and they get super hot, and even though it’s a small little grill, you can take a big old Tomahawk steak and put two of them on there and have the bones hanging off the side, and it’s great.
Duxtop 1800W Portable Induction Burner ($70)
Someone recommended on a cooking blog getting a portable induction burner to run outside in order to do deep frying outside. The reason for this is, obviously, if you have a portable burner, you can take it outside, plug it in. It’s electric. Induction heat is really good because it can get your oil really hot and hold it at that temperature, really at a very stable 375, 400 degrees, which is what you need for deep frying, because you are searing everything on all sides, and the oil has to be a certain temperature so that the water inside the food that you’re cooking evaporates immediately. That’s the spattering, the sizzling that happens. If it’s too low, the water will not evaporate out properly, and that’s when the food gets soggy and gross. Obviously, when you are deep frying inside, it can smell real bad, and smells linger. Then you’ve got a huge, big pot of hot oil that you have to wait to cool down, but if you have an outdoor space, put this burner out there, and you can deep fry outside, and it’s a lot easier to deal with.
Away Suitcase (starting at $225)
I’m not sure if you’ve caught on to this trend, but they’re a very trendy new brand of sort of carry-on size, hard shell suitcase. I highly recommend them. I thought it was all hype, and I thought, “How are you going to reinvent the wheel of the suitcase?” Of course, one of the reinventions is four wheels instead of two. Super duper maneuverable. The hard shell is very, very flexible, which allows you to pack more than you think you can. The packing technique, I have to credit my friend, Janie Haddad Tompkins, whose house I was staying at, because I had gotten this suitcase thinking, “Well, this seems like a nice suitcase, and I need a new one.” She saw me just throwing clothes into it. She said, “You don’t know the system, do you?” I’m like, “There’s a system?” She said, “Oh yeah. Go online. You’ll see how people are packing so much stuff into this suitcase.” Because one half of the suitcase is designated for all of your hard, loose items, like your toiletries and stuff like that. Then you zipper over a mesh cover so that that stuff doesn’t fly around. The other half of the suitcase is for your clothes, and it has a compression panel. This is what I didn’t realize. This is the game changer, to use a cliché, for me on this one. You put your clothes in this other side, and then you put the soft panel down. Then you clip the soft panel into position, and then you can compress the panel down using these straps. All of a sudden all of this extra air space in your clothing is pushed out, and all of a sudden, you have this neat, compact, super dense, perfectly packed pile of clothes, far more than you think you could fit in. Then you close the suitcase up, and it fits into any overhead bin that you like, and it’s pretty amazing.
Quebec Nordiques Hat ($28) or any other extinct hockey hat
There’s a company called ’47. They make a lot of hats with antique logos on them. I became obsessed with the logo of the Hartford Whalers a few years ago. They had a logo that was designed by a guy named Peter Good. He had never designed a sports identity or logo before and it shows, and he designed it in the ’70s. It’s this really innovative, clean, Milton Glaser style logo that incorporates one of the greatest visual tricks of all time. There is a W for Whalers, and then there is a whale’s tail, a sort of figurative whale’s tail that intersects with it, and between the two of them, it creates out of negative space an H. Like most hockey teams, they’re all underdogs, and many of them failed, and they all go away, and they get lost to time. The Hartford Whalers I contend is the best logo, not merely in extinct hockey, but of all sports, the worst logo in all sports is the Quebec Nordiques, another tragic, failed, extinct hockey team from Quebec. I won’t go into the long, tragic history of the Quebec Nordiques, but their logo is terrible. It’s so ugly. It looks like a mutant elephant, a blood red mutant elephant of some kind. It’s really an example of design that dares you to look at it. Whereas some logos invite you in, like the Hartford Whalers logo, they invite you to look more closely, the Quebec Nordiques logo slams the door in your face, and it’s like you weren’t even knocking at the door. It’s so arrestingly ugly and weird. I’ve discovered that people in the hockey community have a real fondness for extinct hockey teams. Hockey is the underdog of all major league sports, and extinct hockey is the under-est of underdogs. And when you wear a Quebec Nordiques logo through the world, people will find you and want to talk to you about the Quebec Nordiques. For someone who did not grow up with sports, it’s something for me to talk about. I was recently in Boston doing a show, and afterward, I was doing a show with a friend of mine who’s from Quincy, and he grew up with a bunch of kids who played hockey in Quincy. These were the kids in the Boston area who, when I was young, would have bullied and scared me, but now they’re all coming up to me going, “Quebec Nordiques, that’s effing awesome.”
Medallion Status: True Stories from Secret Rooms ($13, Kindle)
My new book is called Medallion Status, and it’s unlike my resident expert personality where I was this deadpan, weird, tweedy authority saying nonsense fake facts. It’s just true stories from my life as a famous, increasingly minor television personality, and dad, and author. Vacationland, the book that came out right before this one, was based specifically on a one-man imitation stand up comedy show that I did about all kinds of different wildernesses that I wandered through where I did not belong, including the painful beaches of coastal Maine. This one is more about the time that I flew back and forth across the country, over and over and over again, working as the third best friend on a television sitcom, and making my family suffer as I chased the very last vestiges of fame and Diamond Medallion Status on Delta Airlines.
Traveler’s Choice Transparent Suitcase ($200)
I saw a suitcase in the wild that truly activated every aspirational gene in my body. A guy across the airplane from me pulled down his suitcase, and I thought it was an Away suitcase. I think it’s a different brand because Away doesn’t offer this, but it’s very similar in its design, and it’s perfectly transparent. It’s clear plastic. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. As he pulled it down, I said, “That is a really bold choice.” He said, “Thank you. It helps me to be more mindful when I’m packing.” I was like, “Wow.” That really is something. You’re going to think about how much you really need. I don’t think the world needs to see my underwear, but it is definitely a case that when you are not hiding things away, you’re taking just what you need. I really liked that approach.
This is a bonus tool. Thermapen is this company that specializes in making all kinds of highly accurate digital thermometers that register all kinds of things, like surface temperature. They’re making stuff for all different kinds of scientific applications, with a sideline in making instant read thermometers for cooking. They’re really tremendous, and they’re really the best. Whatever kind of cooking you’re doing, being able to take the temperature of oil with a candy thermometer or the food that you’re cooking is really important.
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