In many ways, as I write this, it feels like 2020 has been a long, uninterrupted blur. It’s like my life stopped in March and is just on hold. I could argue 2020 has been uninspiring, but that’s not really true. Things have happened, and time has passed. I have been inspired and uninspired. I may not have travelled as much (or at all) and I certainly haven’t done as much social interaction, but 2020 won’t be forgotten. I am a different person than I was when 2020 started.
So here it is. What’s inspired me in 2020.
Let’s get out the weird out of the way first. I love food and beverages, in general, but I’ve learned something about myself. I love things where I have a lot of knobs and dials I can play with to create something very unique. It’s the reason why I love roasting and brewing coffee: there are so many obvious variables that will drastically change how tasty, fruity, or caffeinated the final beverage will be.
Well, I found something similar in fermentation. Fermentation is the process by which you rot food in a controlled way; you let bacteria and other microbes process (consume) food in a very controlled environment to render the results you want, and obviously food that can be safely eaten. Some examples of fermented products are wine, beer, kombucha, kefir, cheese, sourdough bread, and lots of hot sauces. Now, you may wonder, how does an obsession with fermentation really start? In my case, with makgeolli. I tried makgeolli for the first time in 2019, on my trip to Seoul.
Makgeolli (막걸리) is the oldest liquor in Korea and has been brewed for at least 2,000 years. Very common amongst farmers, lost some popularity in the 20th century and then came back in the 21st. It’s made from rice and nuruk, a dry cereal starter matured to promote molds that consume the starches of the grain into sugar; after that, yeast turns that sugar into alcohol. The result is this amazing, cloudy, tangy rice wine that’s also very milky and astringent. Absolutely one of the best drinks I’ve had.
After a year, I remembered the drink and I decided to research if I could buy it in the US. It’s virtually impossible (for a decent price). There’s one brand of makgeolli in the US that’s sold for $3–5 dollars a can and then random Korean brands sold online for astronomical prices. So I decided to make it myself. I bought the container, the ingredients, and I started my fermentation journey.
The results were great, not to brag. Makgeolli is a refreshing alcoholic beverage, very milky, slightly viscous. It’s just a little sweet, but it has this unexplainable tanginess. After that, I was hooked and the rest is history. I’ve filled the kitchen with containers, other fermentation gear, and fermented all the things. Plums, vegetables, tomatoes, fruit, and most of all, kombucha.
Fermenting isn’t just an incredibly rewarding experience; it renders delicious food and beverages that are safe to consume, last a long time in the fridge, and populate your intestinal flora. Try it, it’s easy, especially lacto-fermentation.
Let’s continue with kitchen stuff. Cooking has been a godsend this year. Spending so much time indoors at home means you don’t have your usual routine, where you commute, grab something to eat in your lunch break, etc. I learned this year that I instinctively immerse myself in the kitchen when I’m in a good mood and feeling good, but it also goes the other way around: cooking inspires me, soothes me, and fulfills me in a way very few activities can. Cooking for myself is boring, so I have the pleasure and the honor of cooking for both my wife and I.
You see cookies in there. Yeah, I baked cookies. I’m not good at baking. I lack the patience of a baker, I’m an improviser by nature. When I’m by the fire, with the pan, I can improvise, analyze on the fly, add more broth, test taste. But baking is a whole different game. You prepare your strategy, set everything up, and offer it to the oven gods for judgement. Well, these cookies up here are the only successful experiment so far. I baked banana cookies recently that turned out to be gritty, sandy, and weird tasting. I’ll continue learning.
The Silo team
Silo is the company that my cofounder Ashton and I started 3 years ago. It’s our baby. We’ve nurtured it from our first user after week 3 of starting the company in January of 2018(thank you for being so patient; using a prototype is hard) to a real operation with investors, users, and an amazing, inspiring team of 30 people that are finding new ways every day to delight and enable our users.
When we all went into lockdown in March, I was terrified. I had been against remote working for the longest time. I was sure, 100% sure, that the only way to build a successful company was to have a physical fort with a bunch of talented people in it. I was proven wrong. The Silo team has grown from approx. 10 people at the beginning of the pandemic to 30 and every day I learn more and more from them. Building a company is very hard (I should write a separate article about this) and my role and mindset had to change a lot this year, and continue to adapt to the needs of our company. It made me learn about myself, about my weaknesses and strengths. Most importantly, the team I work with is driven and ambitious, and I love collaborating and learning from them.
2021 is daunting for sure. Our company is changing more and more rapidly and I care about thoughtfulness. It’s hard to grow a company and keep thoughtfulness. I’m repeating this word a lot. Being thoughtful is the key to success. Being thoughtful about your users, about your strategy as a company, about what you’re trying to solve, about your shortcomings. A lot of companies lose that thoughtfulness as they grow. I’m pretty determined not to lose that and, if anything, grow our thoughtfulness more and more.
Sadel, my wife
Sadel and I have known each other for 15 years, but she never ceases to surprise and inspire me. As an internal medicine resident in a hospital, it’s been a tough year for her, like it has been for thousands and thousands of healthcare workers around the globe. I’m incredibly proud of her; not only has she been an amazing support this year, but she’s supported countless patients through their ailments. I’m happy the world has her as a doctor, who cares so much about their patients.
As humanity went into lockdown, my parents have had to stay home for the entire last year, only going out for the occasional walk and for grocery shopping. I miss them deeply and it’s been hard to be far away from them, but at the same time, I’m proud of them.
After a life of enterprise, entrepreneurship, and hard work, my parents now finally have the time to embark on creative journeys. My dad is not only an amazing watercolor painter, but also a writer. He finally published his first novel, En Bocagrande ya no hay Tiburones (available on Amazon US, Spain, and all the others). It’s a beautiful, exciting story set in the 1950s about a Spanish marine who runs away to Cartagena, Colombia, escaping from poverty and oppression. I helped a little bit with editing and adding a cover to the book, but it was an effort that I have to admit I did almost selfishly: reading the book over and over fulfilled me, not only because the story was captivating in a way few books have been to me, but also because it fulfilled me to see my father accomplish his objectives.
Finally, reading. My real introduction to reading was when I was 10, with Harry Potter. I’m still a firm believer that the Harry Potter series saved an entire generation worldwide from mediocre literacy. Just like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, J.K. Rowling’s writing didn’t emphasize on the characters, rather used characters to slowly peel off an entire universe you could spend your whole life in. Imagine the power of building a universe, a-la Inception, with no virtual reality, no headsets, no visuals at all; just letters. It set off my passion for fantasy and science fiction.
Well, I gotta admit I haven’t done much sci-fi or fantasy reading this year. I’ve been on this 30 minutes a day journey through history for the past year and a half, most of it Greek and Roman. Livy’s History of Rome, one of the most important primary sources of history about the Roman Republic, is a compendium of pretty much every year of history of the Roman Republic from its foundation to in the 700s BC to the beginning of Roman Empire. The main takeaway, in case you don’t want to read the 35 out of 142 books from the compendium that have survived 2,000 years: Romans had the same problems we do, minus electricity and other modern inventions. They suffered disease, fortune, predatory lending, abusive social classifications, civil revolutions, wars: problems we have today. It’s a little eerie to read about things as specific as predatory payday loans, thinking we’ve made no progress in the last two thousands years, but it’d be unfair to judge us by our lack of progress, when we’ve made so much of it.
The experiences and mishaps of Greeks and Romans paved the way for incredible advances in society that are the foundation of Western culture today. Romans created people tribunes as representatives of the people to fight class injustice, they created publicly funded fire departments (until then, only rich people had fire departments, so they’d visit burning buildings and purchase them for pennies on the dollar, then put the fire out — not joking, that’s how Crassus amassed an incredible amount of wealth). Seeing the terrible toll that predatory lending took on societies like Rome, other cultures prohibited usury, like Islam. The existence of multiple chambers of government (senate, tribunes, etc.) is the foundation of bicameralism today, and the division of powers and accountability is the basis of the separation of powers, the Westminster system, and others.
In other words, the reason why I enjoy reading history is because it explains why we are how we are.
My next reading challenge is philosophy, starting with The Trial and Death of Socrates, a collection of four dialogues by Plato that use, as the title suggests, the trial and execution of Socrates to discuss socratic beliefs in responsibility, piety, and immortality.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of what has inspired me in 2020. A lot has also uninspired me, but I decided to keep this list positive. 2020 was a weird year for the entire world, but I feel optimistic about 2021.
Read more, do more:
The Noma Guide to Fermentation: Including koji, kombuchas, shoyus, misos, vinegars, garums…
The Noma Guide to Fermentation: Including koji, kombuchas, shoyus, misos, vinegars, garums, lacto-ferments, and black…
En Bocagrande ya no hay tiburones (Spanish Edition)
Buy En Bocagrande ya no hay tiburones (Spanish Edition): Read Kindle Store Reviews - Amazon.com
Livy: The Early History of Rome, Books I-V (Penguin Classics) (Bks. 1-5)
Livy: The Early History of Rome, Books I-V (Penguin Classics) (Bks. 1-5) [Livy, Titus, de Sélincourt, Aubrey, S. P., S…