Exercise zero: the setup. Mise en place.

“All you need is an editor, a Terminal, and Python.”

So goes LPTHW’s exercise zero. Zed walks his reader through identifying a basic text editor, locating the terminal, and installing Python. He also explains the importance of being willing to Google for answers.


According to Mr. Shaw, I must have a thing for control since I’m a Linux advocate. (Where’s my huge beard tho??) Kidding aside, Linux — and Free and open source software (FOSS) more generally — just makes sense to me, and I’ve been using it since I started grad school in 2007. Astonishingly, our computer labs all ran Ubuntu!

It took a few days to get the hang of the slightly different look, but I was hooked from the start. I resonated deeply with what I understood to be the guiding principles of FOSS. Why not use software developed by people who are excited to build it, who are daily dreaming up and making improvements, and who are guided by a communitarian ethos? And once you’ve made something, why not share it with others for mutual benefit?

But that’s an aside for another post — and something I care about so much is certain to get its own post! Back to exercise zero.

Text editor, terminal, Python. Pretty straightforward, eh? NOT SO FAST. When I picked up LPTHW two years ago, he didn’t have the nifty “Command Line Crash Course” as Appendix A. Instead, you just noodled your way through basic bash in the course of the lessons. I’m going to spend today and tomorrow working my way through it before proceeding to the next lesson. I have a feeling that much of it will be familiar.

How about in the kitchen? What do you need to get started there?


The most important concept I can share today is that of mise en place. Pronounced “MEEZ ahn plahs”, it’s a French term that means “put in place”, and it’s about all the preparation you do before food is put to the flame.

Ever wonder how high-end kitchens can turn out complex, artful dishes in a reasonable amount of time? It’s because they can spend anywhere from four to six hours before dinner service prepping ingredients and their workstations before a skillet ever hits the gas.

Mise en place is a philosophy so dear to some that they get tattooed with the phrase. It’s a way of life, a dictum that means get all your stuff out so you can get your food out. It’s slowing down so you can speed up.

Home cooks are well served by putting mise en place into practice. Next time you’re hungry, try to follow these guidelines:

    • Start with a clean kitchen. Remove distractions.
    • Read the recipe thoroughly.
    • As you’re reading, make mental note of technique, kitchen tools, and ingredients used.
    • Check your pantry for ingredients.
    • Check in with yourself to make sure you know how to do what the recipe is asking. If you don’t know what “blanching” means, follow Zed’s advice above and google it. If you don’t have a chinois and it seems essential, google alternatives or consider picking another recipe. No shame in that!
    • Check your pantry and fridge for all ingredients.
    • Prep all ingredients: chop, dice, mince, measure, etc.
    • Read the recipe one more time.
    • Take a deep breath. You got this. It’s time to cook!

Vocab re-cap

  • bash: the command line interface that I’m learning the basics of with the help of Appendix A
  • FOSS: free and open-source software: users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software (from What Is Free Software?). I use Ubuntu, a popular Linux distribution. I don’t really like the Unity desktop environment so I usually use xfce. Once upon a time I also used Kubuntu and KDE.
  • mise en place: French: “put in place”. Loosely, an instruction to gather and prepare the ingredients and tools needing for cooking.
  • Python: the programming language I’m learning and writing
  • terminal: where I run the code
  • text editor: where I write the code

Now I’m curious: what’s the coding equivalent of getting a mise en place tattoo? What command do you live by?

And for the cooks: can you remember a time you didn’t employ mise en place, and what were the consequences? Most recently I started making lemony cornmeal-blueberry muffins and realised I was out of plain cornmeal. In a pinch I tried tamale flour. Surprisingly, it worked!


Getting started

At Coding with Knives, I’ll be working my way through Learn Python the Hard Way‘s fifty-two chapters. I’ll share my struggles and victories with the exercises, as well as other tips I pick up along the way.

But I’ll be honest: I’m nervous.

I haven’t taught myself how to do anything since, um… well…

since I learned how to cook!

Over the past fifteen years I’ve been honing my skill daily. I’ve worked in and out of restaurants, from managing staff and advising on recipe creation, to cooking for families throughout Atlanta as a personal chef. These days I can roll up into your kitchen and make a gourmet meal out of whatever you have on hand, but it wasn’t always that way. It’s taken the commitment of daily practice, an insatiable curiosity, and even some risk to get to where I am. The best part is: I’m still learning!

I think the same might be true with learning how to program. Sure, you could take a bootcamp (and I’ll admit, some of them sound awesome) and learn a language in three months, but most of the folks I know who are successful have been curious about programming their entire lives. It seems to be as much a daily practice for your average FOSS* contributor as it is for a skilled cook. You’re always learning, growing, making new connections, challenging yourself.

Whether you’re here to cheer me on, pick up some cooking tips, or just because you’re curious: welcome. I’m glad you’re here.

So, what are your burning cooking questions?

I reached out to some of my smart friends and heard back the following:

  • How to time a meal when preparing multiple dishes
  • How to cook rice
  • Sauteing onion and garlic together such that the garlic doesn’t burn up.
  • Storing vegetables (What can go in the fridge? What shouldn’t go in the fridge? What should be wrapped in towels, etc.)
  • Making tofu taste good
  • Cleaning mushrooms
  • Roasting vs. Baking vs. Fire-roasting vs. Broiling etc. (basically, what do all these terms mean?)
  • Cooking with different oils
  • Anything to do with baking. Baking scares me.
  • Cooking with dried beans (which need to be soaked, quick-soak techniques, slow-cooker techniques)
  • Spices.  When would I use one over the other?  Which ones “go” together?  I want to rosemary in everything, but not everything wants rosemary.  How long can I keep spices?  Ditto makeup. 😉
  • Buying organic.  When does it really matter?  (I kinda know this, but I think it’s good to cover.)
  • When would doubling a recipe be a problem?  Or is it ever?  Especially with regard to crockpot cooking.
  • RICE! There are so many kinds. Also, there are lots of kinds of beans. When should I use which?

I’m looking forward to covering all of the above and more in the days to come. But for now, what are YOUR burning questions? +1 to any of the above?

*That’s the acronym for “free and open source software”, which we’ll chat about, too!