A letter to Jessie upon her graduation from college

By your brother, Chris

Hello Jessie! I was asking about what I should get you for your graduation present to Caleb, and actually I meant to ask some specific things, but before I got to the specific things, he suggested a handwritten letter. Well I'm awful at handwriting but pretty good at typing so you will get a hand-typed letter (though if brain-typed letters were possible at present, I would be using that, since it would be much better for my wrists). What I wanted to ask though was whether or not you had a rice cooker, which it turns out you don't, so you get one of those, and also at the end of this letter, some recipes.

About the rice cooker

Well before I get into the heart of the letter, I have to tell you why I got you a rice cooker. You may think that it's just for cooking rice, but this isn't true. I use my rice cooker usually at least twice a week, and here are some things you can do with a rice cooker:

  • Deluxe oatmeal
  • Soup
  • Vegetarian sloppy joes
  • Hardboiled and softboiled eggs
  • Spaghetti Bolognese sauce
  • Rice pudding
  • Rice (!!!)

What I didn't get you is an electric pressure cooker or the "Instant Pot" as the most popular brand goes. This is for a few reasons:

  • The rice cooker can do some things easier than the electric pressure cooker can, such as steaming eggs or making rice or really a lot of things.
  • It's useful to have both. In fact it's ideal to have both: you can make an entire meal with very little effort if you just toss ingredients into both and then you have your stew on the one hand and your side dish on the other.
  • …It was also $50 out of budget!

The real advantage of the rice cooker is that it's "set and forget" cooking… for most of the process you just put in the important ingredients and then you turn it on, only stirring once or twice and often not at all. This frees you up to clean up the mess you made in the kitchen or read the intarwebs or whatever.

About the containers

Oh yeah, so we also included some individually sized containers. I'm about to give you the biggest life-improving tip of your life: freeze your meals in individual containers. Meal prep! Yeah I'm serious, this is hands down the best idea you can do. Look, I got you a big rice cooker, and you might be like, "What am I going to do with that much food at once?" And let me tell ya sister, the best idea is to cook way more food than you're going to eat at once. But the worst idea is to then put all those leftovers in the refridgerator. Because the next day, you'll have leftovers, and you'll be like, "this is delicious, I am the best cook", and then the day after that you'll be like "it's okay, I'm not so sure why I was into this", and then the next day you'll be like "ugh I'm sick of this, but I've got like six servings left and if I don't eat it soon it's going to go bad" and then the next day you're like "fuck this, fuck cooking, why do I cook food" and you'll whole the whole thing in the garbage and cry yourself to sleep. Okay, maybe you won't do the last part but I mean, that's kind of unpleasant right?

So freezing food! In individual containers! That last bit is really key. You may be surprised at how much food holds up to being frozen, and really most of the stuff you'd make in a rice cooker fits in that category. So the idea is that you make a ton of food, then put all the leftovers in these containers, let it cool just a little bit (long enough to not defrost everything in your freezer, short enough to not forget and leave it out to spoil). Frozen food tends to hold up for months, and now instead of a week of leftover-slog, on Monday you have the food you made that week, on Tuesday you have that delicious curry you made last month, on Wednesday you have the tasty fried rice you made last week, on Thursday you have the hearty chili you made four months ago, and so on and so on. Plus, notice how I only suggested that you cook once in those days listed! That's the advantage of this approach, you really have to cook a lot less often but you still get a lot of fun variety.

You might also want to get some freezer tape to label these. I didn't get you this! It's not specifically necessary, worst comes to worst you play "delicious leftovers roulette".

Speaking of frozen food, don't be shy about using bags of frozen fruits and vegetables as ingredients. Fresh is great, but did you know that nutritionally frozen often beats fresh? That's because much "fresh" vegetables have to travel across the country (or countries) and then sit on a shelf and degrade in that process, whereas frozen veg / fruit tend to be flash frozen. These days you can get a lot of kinds of frozen freggies, even frozen squash.

The sentimental bits

Okay, okay, enough about food (that is until we get back to food in the next section). Here comes the heart of the letter.

Jessie, I look back fondly on the days when we lived together. It was great growing up with you; I felt we were always close buddies. I appreciated that you had an active imagination that matched mine. Some of my favorite memories:

  • Going on walks around the neighborhood
  • Swimming at the pool and playing a game where we imagined that we were on some sort of epic fantasy quest… I don't remember the details though!
  • Playing that game "Yuu Yuu Hakusho Tokubetsu Hen", a game that we never really new what was happening anything but from the visuals, but which was a lot of fun anyway… it was nice that it was a game where I could ask you, "what should we do?" and we'd work out a plan together. Of course we always chose the "rose girl" who turned into the "cat boy" (and later on we found out that that was I guess a guy anyway but who cares about gender).
  • Trying to find out who could reach higher to get the last of the ramen noodles from each other and of course that would mostly be me (sorry Jessie)!

When I left for college, not being in close proximity to each other while growing up is maybe the thing I was saddest about next to not being able to see my regular group of Milwaukee friends. But then, as now, I was sure you would find your way.

Morgan has always said, and I've always agreed, "I'm always surprised and impressed by how well rounded a person Jessie is", and I agree. It's nice that you're both smart and friendly and sociable. I've always appreciated that you weren't ashamed of being nerdy (I quietly take a lot of credit for that, fairly or not) but are also capable of fitting in socially (which probably Elizabeth has a lot to do with, I certainly didn't) while also not turning into a bully, as many people do who are able to fit comfortably into the social ladder.

Over the years I've been happy to see you explore your own interests and figure out what you do and don't want. You've done some great acting, you've found your way in terms of what kinds of things you want to do professionally (or at least you're on a good path for it), and I think you've managed to keep up your well-roundedness.

Well, now you're graduating from the undergraduate level (a strange phrase to say) and I think are considering moving on to graduate school next, and I'm positive that whatever happens next will work well for you.

It's traditional, somewhat, to give graduates advice. I guess I tend to feel that telling people exactly what to do is problematic, so my advice will be more general. Here goes:

  • Do meaningful and impactful things with your life. You more than most people have some flexibility as to what you can do. Why not put that flexibility to good use? How can you do something that both satisfies yourself, but also helps others? Always try to figure out what you can do that is reasonably enjoyable, impactful, and interesting. I'm not saying you have to do the world's most advanced world-changing things, just that if you do something meaningful, you'll be happiest with your work.
  • On the other hand, you can only do so much. This is the lesson I have the hardest time with… in the programming world we talk about "yak shaving". Yak shaving usually means persuing a bunch of extraneous tasks that seem to never get anywhere because you always have more of them to do. There's so much yak hair, that shaving yaks feels almost like a futile effort. Every now and then I overload my life that I have to say, "Sorry, the yak barbershop is full. I can't take on any more tasks." If you don't do this, then you run the risk of burning out.
  • On the other hand, you should do cool and interesting things. There's nothing wrong inherently with shaving yaks… in fact, I love doing it and a lot of the interesting work I do could be accused of being yak shaving. But the hard lesson is: you only get to shave so many yaks before you die. Time is limited in this short life… do interesting things with it, but you can only do so many of them.
  • That's not to stress you out… you have plenty of time to sort things through. And in fact not knowing exactly where you're going can be an interesting opportunity if you can pick up and take advantage of opportunities as they come (that's how I've lived most of my life anyway).
  • As for relationship things, don't try to win. I mean this both in terms of personal relationships of friends and family. Disagreements are fine, and are even opportunities (even when draining) to discover and refactor some unknown snag in the fabric of your life and connection to others. It can be difficult, and partly because of the difficulty (and partly because it can be satisfying to say "I'm right") it can be tempting to desire to be declared "the winner" of a disagreements. But disagreements are collaborative games… there aren't winners and losers in general as much as good outcomes and bad outcomes. Be prepared to step back from your pride for the sake of a good outcome.
  • To that end, nothing is more important than good communication in a relationship.
  • Beware the "fire vortex": if you and your partner disagree over something, it can be easy to stew on it and feel upset not only over the disagreement but over the fact that your partner is upset. If both of you feel this way (and that's easy to happen), then both of you will continue to re-approach the other as you spin deeper and deeper towards the fire vortex. The solution to the fire vortex is to declare, "I think we're spinning into a fire vortex. Let's take some time to chill and think about it and then try to work through this problem." This requires not one but two cooperative partners who are willing to work through the problem together.
  • Aside from the advice towards good communication (and to avoid abuse or being abused in relationships), I think most relationship advice is bullshit. So some advice would be, if you think relationship advice doesn't apply to you, then you don't have to listen to it. If you and your partner(s) are happy, then who cares how other people feel about it… it's your relationships.

I don't believe the phrase "you can do whatever you set your mind to" is particularly useful, though maybe it's more true for you than for others because I think you're a very flexible person. But your life is not just you, it's you in connection to others. So instead, I will say: I fully believe that if you set your mind towards doing interesting and fulfilling things, you will do them. You might not always know exactly where you are going to go, but finding out you get there can be interesting too. I am sure that if you work hard and be considerate of yourself, those you care about, and the world at large that you will have a life you can look back upon with pride.

I have full confidence in you, and I love you dearly. Thanks for being the best sister I could imagine.

The recipes

Whew! That was a lot of soppy sentimental stuff right? I bet after all that you're feeling pretty hungry! Well I have collected quite a few recipes over the years… most of these go directly into the rice cooker, and those that don't work well with a side of rice anyway. Here goes!

Plain rice

Well, you gotta start with the basics I guess.

For white rice, there are two ways: use the scoop that comes with the rice cooker, and for each "cup" of that fill up water to the corresponding line number on the side of the insert pot. Put the pot in and make sure the water catcher is on too and select "white rice". So easy! Comes out perfect every time! (Except I find that scoop isn't exactly one cup, so if you're using a measuring cup, add a little bit more water.)

Brown rice: It's the same, except double the water.

Fun fact: you can cook about any grain in the rice cooker.

Rice pilaf

Same as above, but replace some of the water with vegetable or other broth. (I like the "better than bullion" brand.) Then add some fun vegetables and other things:

  • Spices: A strand or two of saffron is traditional but nearly anything works. Try a curry powder, for instance.
  • Add nuts: slivered almonds, pecans, walnuts, cashews are all good.
  • Dried fruit: raisins, currants, dates (be sure they're pitted!), or dried cranberries
  • Vegetables: Snow peas, broccoli, carrots, corn, or experiment!

Oatmeal with fruit

You will be shocked at how delicious and easy this is. Like the pilaf, this is more of a template:

  • For each cup of dry oatmeal you add to the rice cooker, add fill up to about 2 to as much as 3 times that of the line on the side of the rice. If when cooking you notice it needs more water, you can always add it. Alternately replace some of the water with milk (dairy or nut milk) for a creamier oatmeal (though it should already be fairly creamy)
  • Add fruit. Fresh apples are good (be sure to add cinnamon), and there are many bags of frozen prechopped fruits you can add if you're feeling lazy (peaches are extrordinary, and so are strawberries or bags of mixed berries). Dried fruits such as raisins are also good.
  • Add sweetener now, if you like, or you can add it later. Up to you.
  • Consider vanilla extract, and if using apples, cinnamon and nutmeg or allspice.

Turn it on the "white rice" functionality and let it cook. Stir once or twice while cooking. Your house will fill with the most wonderful aromas of cooked fruit. Top with your preferred toppings, such as cream, sugar, butter.

This can make a lot very easily. You can reheat this, though you may be surprised at how "congealed" it looks when taken from the refrigerator. The key is to add a bit of water right before sticking in the microwave and then stirring either at the end or in the middle. If you do that, this reheats beautifully.

Hardboiled and softboiled eggs (via the steamer)

You'll be surprised to find that this is the easiest way you've ever "boiled" eggs, even though you're steaming them. Simply add a layer of water at the bottom of the pot–it doesn't have to be more than a centimeter since we're just steaming with it–put the eggs in the steamer basket and over the water, and set the steamer functionality to 7 minutes for soft boiled eggs and 12 minutes for hard boiled eggs.

When it's done, use potholders to remove the steamer basket and also the pot. Pour out the water in the pot and add cold water, and (using protection to not burn your hands) put the eggs into the cold water. This will "shock" them and prevent them from cooking further (otherwise they will continue to cook themselves). Enjoy!

Lentil soup

Ingredients Calories Quantity Total
cup dry red lentils 640 1.5 960
large onion 60 1 60
clove garlic 4 3 12
tbsp olive oil 119 1 119
large can crushed tomatoes 260 1 260
tbsp vegetable bullion 45 3 135
Total   6 258

This one has ingredients and actual nutrition information calculations! As you can see it serves 6 and comes out to a mere 258 calories per bowl.

  • First, chop the onion. Then pour the oil into the pot and set it to the saute function. Begin to brown the onions (be sure to not use a metal spatula, that will tear up the nonstick coating). Adding some salt at this stage will "sweat" the onions a bit. Do this for three to five minutes.
  • When the onions are near browned, pull out the garlic cloves and smash them with the side of a knife to make them easier to remove from the skin. Then mince and add to the onions. (Alternately if you're feeling lazy, you can skip this step and use garlic powder. I frequently do, and there's no shame in it!)
  • When the aromatics are properly browned, turn off the saute function. Add the red lentils and crushed tomatoes and bullion paste (or have it mixed already with the water, it doesn't matter much). Fill the water to the top or second to top fill line. (You can add another half a cup of red lentils if you want a thicker soup.) Stir and add salt to taste.
  • Add spices. Just black pepper actually works pretty well, though garam masala (a kind of curry powder) works great. (You can actually flavor this a lot of different ways including with herbs but initially I recommend just one of those two.)
  • Now turn it on the soup setting or the slow cook setting (honestly the brown rice setting works too) and walk away. It'll continue cooking on its own. You can stir it once or twice and check on it.

Voila, lentil soup! Serve with crusty bread if you can find it, or toast.

Variations: use brown lentils. Will also be delicious though will take much longer to cook. It will also have a much earthier flavor. You can also use split peas to make split pea soup and use the same technique as above.

No-cheese broccoli cheddar soup

Ingredients Calories Quantity Total
tbsp olive oil 119 1/2 60
medium onion 44 1 44
pkg frozen broccoli 120 2 240
pkg frozen cauliflower 100 2 200
tbsp miso paste 40 4 160
cup nutritional yeast 640 1/2 320
cup cashew milk 25 1 25
tsp garlic powder 10 2 20
Total   7 153

This is completely vegan, though you will need an immersion blender (a standing blender works too but takes forever). It's also incredibly low in calories for something that tastes like a cheese soup.

This recipe requires a medium or light miso. Don't get a thick brown miso or it won't work. Alternately if you don't have miso you can use vegetable broth. It also requires "nutritional yeast", an inactive yeast used frequently in vegan cooking, which you can find in health food sections of grocery stores. This is what makes it taste cheesy.

The pureed cauliflower is the trick here; that's what gives it the normal "body" of broccoli and cheddar soup, for a fraction of the calories.

  • Chop onion and brown. If the onions begin to stick I recommend adding a bit of the miso paste and just a bit of water and carmelize them in that. But ya know, normal onion browning technique can go here.
  • Add all the other ingredients, but reserving about a fourth of the broccoli for later. The frozen vegetable bags may not be exactly the size you're using, but the key idea is to have a mostly even amount of both cauliflower and broccoli in there. You want about as much cauliflower and brocooli as fits to the top fill line for rice. (Using fresh broccoli and cauliflower is fine, but frozen saves a lot of time.) Add water to cover.
  • Set to cook on soup or on slow cook. It'll take a while if it's frozen but now you can go do other things with your life.
  • You're back, and the soup is "cooked"! Now it's time to puree the cauliflower and broccoli mixture with the immersion blender, if you have it. (Otherwise you'll have to puree in a standing blender just a couple cups at a time or it'll turn into a mess.) Puree the heck out of it.
  • Add the reserved broccoli and let it cook for just a bit. You can select one of the cook settings but you're not cooking for another full cycle, just enough to heat up the broccoli. Now use the immersion blender to chop it up a bit but not completely; there should be chunks of broccoli remaining. (If you don't have an immersion blender you can microwave the broccoli, chop it, and then add to the soup.)

Horray, it's done! Serve with crusty bread or buttered toast.

(Don't eat this one cold by the way, it won't taste good… but it does reheat wonderfully!)

Spaghetti bolognese (or "sailor sauce" as we called it)

Just like mom used to make, sorta. It's pretty simple, so I'm just going to type it out:

  • Brown some onions and "meat" in the bottom of the pot on the saute function. I like to use veggie grounds, which you can find in nearly any grocery store's frozen section.
  • Add some jars of premade spaghetti sauce to the rice cooker pot. (Or you can skip this and do this with just cans of crushed tomatoes, it's just a bit more work.)
  • Add some cans of crushed tomatoes.
  • Add a ton of garlic. Like, so much of it. You can be lazy and use powdered garlic, but don't tell mom.
  • Add oregano and basil. A lot of both, but especially of the oregano.
  • Maybe add salt, and mayyyyybe add sugar (mom did). Personally I'm trying to reduce how much sugar I eat but I do find it makes this stuff addictively delicious.

Turn it on, well, nearly any of the cooking settings and let it cook until ready. I find "brown rice" works well. In the meanwhile you can make your noodles and clean up the kitchen, and soon enough it'll be done.

Be careful when opening that lid! The sauce will be hot and bubbly/spattery.

Lentil or TVP spaghetti bolognese

Same as above but instead of the first step either a cup of brown lentils or textured vegetable protein to the bottom of the pot and fill water to the second fill level number as you added cups of this stuff. Then add the rest of the ingredients and use the brown rice setting.

Good umami things to add which will dramatically boost the flavor of this… sometimes I add all three:

  • Braggs liquid aminos or tamari
  • Miso
  • Nutritional yeast (seriously… this gives it the rich flavor of "meat drippings")

Lazy vegetarian sloppy joes

Ingredients Calories Quantity Total
cup dry lentils 600 1.5 900
medium onion 44 1 44
red pepper 37 1 37
tbsp olive oil 119 .5 60
can sloppy joe sauce 210 1 210
Total   6 208

This is the laziest goddamned thing, especially if you do use a premade can of sloppy joe sauce (though you don't have to… you can make your own sauce with bbq sauce you have in the fridge and a can of crushed tomatoes, or even just use the crushed tomatoes and find your own combination of smoky and sweet additions (smoked paprika, hot sauce and peaches is a dreamy combination)). But if you use a can of Manwich I won't judge you for it (though I will judge the company for the use of the name "Manwich").

You can find bags of prechopped peppers and onions to be even lazier about this.

The process:

  • Saute onions and peppers at the bottom of the pot in the oil. (Strictly speaking even this step is optional… you don't have to saute them, and you don't even need the onions and peppers if you don't feel like it.)
  • Add lentils to pot, fill water to fill line for 3 cups. Add sauce and turn it on. (The umami suggestions from the Lentil / TVP bolognese recipe also apply here but are optional.)
  • Turn the rice cooker on "brown rice" and clean up that mess you made! (Which was probably barely any mess at all because of how easy this recipe is.)

This makes a ton. You can also use TVP here and that's also great and practically indistinguishable from "normal" sloppy joes, but I really like brown lentils here.

TVP and lentil loaf

Like meatloaf, but way better.

Ingredients Calories Quantity Total
cup dry red lentils 640 1 640
cup TVP 320 1 320
tbsp olive oil 119 1/3 40
cup quick cooking oatmeal 300 1 300
tbsp ketchup 20 8 160
tbsp nutritional yeast 25 2 50
tbsp miso paste 40 1 40
carrot 25 2 50
Total   8 200
  • Cook lentils and tvp in rice cooker with whatever spices you feel like, if any. Definitely salt and pepper.
  • Shred or mince the carrot, or buy preshredded carrots if you're lazy.
  • Pulse about half the oatmeal in a food processor.
  • Lentils and TVP are done? Great… add that and all ingredients to a mixing bowl and mix it up. Add salt to taste.
  • Grease a bread pan and add pixture. Top with ketchup or bbq sauce.
  • Bake at 375 for 30 minutes, add tinfoil and bake for another 15.

Perfect morgan food

Actually I haven't tried making this one in the rice cooker, but it would probably work. This is Morgan's favorite, as Morgan loves cottage cheese so much. You need to serve this with rice, so either cook this on the stovetop while the rice cooks, or just cook both in two batches.

The peas / spinach / corn I recommend just getting from frozen bags of things. This if a strange sounding meal, just trust me. It comes together in a pinch, too.

Ingredients Calories Quantity Total
can navy beans 518 1 518
cup of soymilk 100 .5 50
cup low fat cottage cheese 180 1 180
tbsp miso paste 40 1 40
tbsp nutritional yeast 25 2 50
tbsp dijon mustard 10 1 10
cup spinach 7 .75 5
cup peas 110 .5 55
cup sweet corn kernels 150 .5 75
tbsp garlic powder 30 1 30
tbsp onion powder 30 1 30
Total   4 261
  • Add all ingredients except cottage cheese to a pot and warm it up. Get it bubbly and boiling.
  • Add cottage cheese and heat for a few minutes until some of the cottage cheese dissolves but not all of it.
  • Serve with rice. You're done! The spirit of Morgan shines over you.

Mujaddara (Lentils and Rice) w/ steamed sweet potato

Are you sick of lentils yet? I'm not! Lentils are "the pulse of the world" and feed more hungry people than any other food except for maybe rice. And combined together, they're a complete meal. I promise you though this meal doesn't sound like much, it's one of the tastiest things you will ever eat. I tossed in a sweet potato to make it more exciting but I promise you it doesn't need it.

Ingredients Calories Quantity Total
cup dry brown lentils 640 1 640
cup dry rice 560 1 560
large onion 60 1 60
tbsp olive oil 119 1 119
medium sweet potato 115 1 115
cup low fat yogurt 110 1 110
Total   4 401
  • Add brown lentils and rice to the rice cooker along with salt and pepper and turn it on. That's the bulk of the meal right there.
  • (OPTIONAL:) Chop up the sweet potato and add it to the steamer basket. Put this on top of the lentils and rice and let it steam from their cooking. You should remove this partway through or it'll overcook.
  • Now chop up the onion and brown it in the oil with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Unlike most recipes this is not used as the base of the meal, but is the "topping". (Are you feeling truly lazy? You know those cans of Libby's fried onions that people put on green bean casserole? You can just use that instead. I won't tell anyone.)
  • Put lentils and rice in bowls, top with the onion and 1/4 cup of yogurt. Salt as you like.

Okay, I promise I'm going to take a break on lentils for a bit!


This is easy and I'm feeling lazy, so here's a template:

  • maybe saute onions or use onion powder
  • maybe saute something meatlike or use tvp, you should know how to do that by now
  • add a bunch of beans and canned tomatoes and maybe corn into the rice cooker
  • add a bunch of chili powder, maybe hot sauce
  • salt to taste
  • turn it on
  • walk away!

Fun variations:

  • add chocolate powder (unsweetened) to make this a mole chili!
  • add beer
  • add… apples??! you bet!

Rice pudding

Ingredients Calories Quantity Total
cup dry white rice 560 2 1120
can coconut milk 640 1 640
tbsp sugar 45 4 180
tsp vanilla extract 12 2 24
1 cup raisins 560 1 560
Total   8 316
  • Add rice, add water to 4 fill line.
  • Add all other ingredients
  • Add a large amount of cinnamon and maybe a bit of nutmeg
  • Turn on brown rice setting, even though this is white rice

Serve in cups or bowls with a dash of cinnamon on top!

Raisin red lentil pumpkin curry dal

Another lentil recipe? Well this is everyone's favorite recipe of mine, so…

Ingredients Calories Quantity Total
large onion 60 1 60
tbsp olive oil 119 1 119
cup dry red lentils 640 2 1280
can coconut milk 640 1 640
medium can crushed tomatoes 70 1 70
1 cup raisins 560 1 560
large can pureed pumpkin 280 1 280
Total   10 301
  • Fry up onion in oil
  • Add red lentils and fill to level 4 in the rice cooker
  • Add coconut milk, tomatoes, pumpkin, raisins, curry powder, and… pumpkin pie spice mix. Yes, I know, I'm sorry. And add more cinnamon, just in case. Add half the coconut milk
  • Turn it on some kind of stew setting and walk away. Except come back to stir it a few times.
  • Serve with rice, preferably basmati.