Friday, October 19, 2018

curbing the technology addiction

When we arrived back home from Puerto Rico, I was acutely aware that we would need to take measures to detox from technology. Four months of city living, and removed from the standard sources of entertainment that we typically rely on — libraries, peer groups, farm chores, gardening, acres of green, a full barn, a stocked kitchen — had resulted in all of us becoming depressingly dependant on technology. Even though I'd temporarily reconciled myself to a different lifestyle, the entire summer I was biding my time, itching to get back home so I could slap on the limits.

I wasn’t exactly sure what those limits would look like, though. I assumed that regular life would pull us away from screens naturally, and it did ... but only to a point. Even with college classes, social events, and jobs, my husband and I and the two older children kept defaulting to technology. In the evenings when I’d make the rounds to say good night, I’d often find the older two kids curled up in their respective beds, watching some show or another. Observing them so sucked in, my anxieties skyrocketed. We desperately needed to press a reset, but how?

For days, I racked my brains for a plan that would make a difference but that wasn’t so extreme that it would be doomed to fail. Finally I landed on an idea: no screens for entertainment purposes after 8:30, Sunday through Thursday.

Since this rule would apply to the adults (the kids weren't the only technology addicts in the family), I ran the idea by my husband. “This means no middle-of-the-night movies, you know,” I said pointedly. (When he can’t sleep, he often comes downstairs to watch movies.) “No problem,” he said, “I can read.”

To each of the kids, I presented the idea separately. My main talking points:

*We’ve all become much too dependant on technology.
*If we don’t put boundaries on technology, it’s way too easy to default to it.
*The younger kids don’t have access to technology, and they ought to have the opportunity to grow up with the same sense of family and togetherness that you had.
*There’s plenty of other stuff to do, like music, reading, games, visiting.
*This will help to provide a structure for the work week. You’ll get more sleep, which will help you focus.
*You'll still have the weekends to do with what you want.

So, what do you think? I asked them.

My older son’s response: Okay, maybe.
Me: Maybe isn’t good enough.
Him: I can’t promise anything, Mom, but I’ll do the best I can.
Me: You don’t think this is a good idea?
Him: Well, yeah.
Me: Then why not commit?
Him: Okay, fine. I’ll do it.



My older daughter’s response: Aw Mom, really? Do I have to?
Me: Don’t you think it’s a good idea?
Her, whimpering: Um...yes?
Me: Then what harm is there in tr—
Her: OKAY.



My idea has been in effect for about a month now, and even though our media fast is laughably piddly — just five nights a week and only after 8:30 P.M. — the shift has felt huge. Now that half of the family (or three-fourths) isn’t staring at a screen with headphones on in the evening, the atmosphere is different. No longer divided into technology haves and have nots, the playing field has been evened. And even though we’re often separated physically — the kids still like to hide out in their rooms, doing their own things (and ignoring my shouted demands at them to come down and read in the living room with their dear mama) — the family feels more together, more present.

For me, instead of looking forward to a show before bed, I now look forward to curling up on the sofa with a mug of cocoa and a book. Sure, some nights I feel mildly bereft — a movie sure would be nice right now — but rules are rules and books are fun, too, so end of story. And bonus: since reading makes me tired, I’ve been going to bed earlier and getting more sleep than ever before. (I think we all are.)

I've noticed that the five-day pre-bedtime media break goes a long way in loosening a show’s grip on my psyche:  the less I watch, the less I want to watch. Without the distraction of a show tugging me away from life, other things have a chance to take center stage, things like thinking, sleeping, talking, and reading, which might sound boring but actually aren’t.





I read in the middle of the day, too.

P.S. Full disclosure: We haven’t been one hundred percent consistent — there have been times we’ve forgotten or (certain children) have outright chosen to disregard the rule — but then we talk about it and try again.

This same time, years previous: practical and beautiful, a hairy situation, hair loss, the quotidian (10.19.15), the reading week, rich, would you come?, how to have a donut party, part one, Italian cream cake.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

kitchen notes

Look at this gorgeous bag of homegrown popcorn that my niece gave me for my birthday! 



Homegrown popcorn tastes completely different from store-bought — store-bought is tough and chewy while homegrown is tender and crispy-light — and even though I buy locally-grown popcorn direct from the farmer, my niece’s popcorn was leagues better. Which makes me wonder: why is it so impossible to grow good popcorn on a commercial level?



I made myself a batch of feast-for-the-eye-and-mouth popcorn the other night, and while some of the kernels didn’t pop up properly, most of the seeds did do a partial-pop thing so they were perfectly edible and delicious — two different kinds of crunch in the same bowl.

***

Also for my birthday: a pasta maker! I’d asked for (er, demanded, rather) this months ago, and my husband pulled through.



And then Chiro’s family jumped on the bandwagon and got me a ravioli maker/mold, a pasta roller cutter thingy, and a drying stand.



Now I’m very much on a pasta kick, of course. The other day I made this for supper (but I used collards instead of kale and noodles instead of beans), and then one afternoon when I had time on my hands, I made a batch of fettuccini just so I could try out my drying rack. The rack worked wonderfully, much to my younger son’s delight: no longer did he have to painstakingly detangle clumps of stuck-together noodles.



I let the noodles dry on the rack overnight before slipping them into half-gallon jars and storing them in the freezer. The noodles were quite brittle but my cousin had warned me that, even though she’d dried her noodles to the snapping point, they’d still, for some odd reason, grown mold at room temp, and there was no way I wanted to risk that.

***

Have you ever tried cocoa and coffee cheese?



I discovered this when I was at Costco with Chiro and Lery. We’d long teased Chiro about his custom of plopping a thick wedge of cheese in his cup of coffee (hot chocolate, too, he’d told us) — the cheese flavored the coffee and then, at the end, there’d be a melty-soft lump at the bottom — but now here was Chiro’s habit in reverse: soft Fontina cheese with a rind of spices, cocoa powder, and coffee. He bought it, of course.



The cheese is yummy — and a small piece is all that remains — though I still prefer a modest barrier between my cheeses and hot beverages.

***

Also purchased by Chiro and Lery at Costco (they kept us well-stocked!): 18 Carrot Gold Chips.



chip thief photobomber

They are so, so good — sweet and salty, crispy and light — though they have a richness that deters one (or me, at least) from gorging on them as with regular potato chips.

***

Have you seen the new Netflix documentary Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat? I watched the first episode by myself on Friday, then the next two episodes with the kids on Sunday evening and the final one, again with the kids, on Monday afternoon before supper.



I learned a good bit about food, but mostly, I just loved watching Samin. Her laughter is contagious, her exuberance inspiring. Recommend!

***

Here’s a trick to making a good pie a whole lot better: underfill and overbake. Just as Hermione and Harry had to learn the wingardium leviosa curse — swish and flick — every pie baker ought to learn this pie-baking spell: underfill and overbake, swish and flick.*

I inadvertently discovered this piece of magic while making a grape pie. I lined a good-sized pie pan (10-inch, maybe?) with pastry, crimped the edges, and then poured in the hot grape filling. I’d forgotten, however, that the pie filling was only three-cups worth, hardly enough to even fill the pie halfway. What with a good inch of crust towering above the piddly amount of filling, the whole thing looked woefully pathetic.

But then I put the pie in the oven and magic happened. The pie edges melted down the sides, slumping around the fruit like a crostata. Since the crimped edges were protected by the pie pan’s glass sides, the pastry baked evenly without any threat of burning, so, when the recommended baking time was up, I just kept right on baking it.



The resulting pastry was deeply golden brown through and through (no soggy bottoms in sight!) and the crumb was crispy-flaky, all toasted, buttery goodness, swish and flick! 

*If you like Harry Potter and/or dance, watch this.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (10.16.17), a list, home, the adjustment, grab and go: help wanted, pepperoni rolls.

Friday, October 12, 2018

English muffins

Years ago, I tried — and failed — to make English muffins. I don’t remember what the problems were exactly. Perhaps the flavor was flat? But I do know I tried about a half dozen different recipes before throwing my hands up in disgust.

Fast forward to last month when I came across a recipe in, of all places, a news magazine. We subscribed to The Week — a weekly (duh) magazine filled with lots of short snippets from lots of other news sources — when we were in Puerto Rico because we wanted a simple, hands-on news source. But then we ended up hardly ever reading it (or anything else) while we were there, so it might not have been the best use of our money, oh well.

ANYWAY. Last month the magazine ran a recipe — they run one recipe each week — for English muffins. Four-ingredient English muffins, to be exact.

My first reaction was a ginormous eye roll. English muffins are hard! There was no way you could make good English muffins with just four ingredients. Obviously, these people didn’t have a clue. Also, their method called for baking the muffins in the oven and everyone knows that English muffins must be cooked on a griddle. That’s what makes them English muffins!

But at the same time, I was intrigued. Could flour, salt, baking powder, and yogurt actually make a decent muffin? And as long as the muffins tasted delicious, did I really care if they were baked or griddle-cooked? No, I decided, I did not.



Turns out, the muffins are delicious — the yogurt adds a subtle tang — and the method is blink-your-eyes-and-you’re-done fast. And as for the baking method: IT WORKS, end of story.





P.S. In the middle of all the renewed English muffin vigor, I purchased a box of "real" English muffins ... and was horrified to realize that they tasted like chemicals! Has anyone else noticed this?



English Muffins
Adapted from a recipe found in the August 31, 2018 issue of The Week.

Note: Once, I mixed together the flour and yogurt the night ahead of time, thinking that the extra fermentation might yield a more tender, flavorful product. However, the result was a batch of gummy-gross muffins that got tossed to the chickens. Summary: say no to pre-mixing.

Note Number Two: These muffins are quite moist on the inside, thanks to the yogurt, so, in order to have a good ration of toasty crust to tender bread, it's important to shape the discs into no more than half-inch thickness.

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups plain fat-free Greek yogurt

Combine all ingredients. Knead briefly. Divide the dough into eight equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and then flatten into a puck that’s about a half-inch thick (similar to a hamburger patty).

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or grease it with butter) and sprinkle with cornmeal or semolina. Place the muffins on the baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 10 - 12 minutes. Flip each muffin and baked for another 10 minutes.

Cool for a bit before splitting the muffins in half with a fork (stab all the way around the edge of the muffin before pulling the two halves apart). Serve warm, with tons of butter and jelly.

This same time, years previous: the relief sale donuts of 2017, peanut butter fudge. up and over, contradictions and cream, roasted red pepper soup, old-fashioned brown sugar cookies.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

the relief sale donuts of 2018

Donuts.




I have a love-hate relationship with this whole donut operation thing. The hardest part is the anticipation of it. Or maybe “the dreading of it” would be a more accurate term.

For weeks, the event hangs over my head like a French guillotine. The all-nighter, the loooong stretch of monofocus. The noise, the people, the grease. All the details to keep straight: Who is driving what car and when, the volunteers to be lined up and the items to purchase, calculations to figure, notes to read and re-read and re-re-read. In the final days leading up to the sale, I feel like I’m grinding down into low gear, my body going rigid as I brace for impact.

This year I was terribly tired before I even started (I tried to sleep a little on Friday night but I only dozed briefly before finally giving up), and, let me tell you, it’s horrible to be dog tired and yet be up against once of the longest and hardest days of work of your entire year.



Then again, it’s not that horrible. Because by that point there’s really nothing to be done but cry a little, tell your husband through clenched teeth that you will never EVER do this again, drink a coffee, and then get on with it.




And the funny thing was, once we got to work (at 12:30 in the morning), I began to enjoy myself. Like, REALLY enjoy myself. Which leaves me wondering how it is that I can go from utterly loathing something to thoroughly enjoying it?

My husband, on the other hand, doesn’t worry about the relief sale at all. Instead, he gets excited and weirdly happy.



What happens when he sticks his nose in my business: A MESS.

And then when it’s upon us, he works harder and longer than I ever could and has a rip-roaring fun time doing it, too. I don’t think we could be more different if we tried. (The older two kids love it, too, and they claim they want to be in charge completely next year.)

A few highlights from this year:

Guests! My husband’s brother and his three girls traveled down from Upstate New York, dragging their camper behind them. They arrived at the sale about the same time we did and spent their whole weekend working right alongside us.








Coaching! This year, I took more time to actually coach the volunteers. For example, if someone was new to the dough-rolling process, instead of explaining and then walking away, I stood beside them, pointing out problem spots and giving hands-on demonstrations. I was impressed on two accounts:

1) how receptive and appreciative the volunteers were to input (because I’m always afraid I’m going to offend someone), and
2) how much more uniform the donuts were.

Quality Control! I also made a much bigger deal about quality control and how to do it. I’d tell the volunteers, YOU are in charge of quality control. It’s YOUR job to check and double-check the product when it arrives at your station.





For example...
*Dough mixers make sure the milk-potato mixture is hot enough and that the potatoes are thoroughly blended.
*Dough-room people make sure the dough is neither too sticky nor two dry.
*Tray-fillers check for donut size, discarding the ones that are too skinny or too fat.
*Tray-runners double check donut size and make sure the trays have been properly filled.
*Glazers set aside donuts that are too dark or too light, or that got mangled in the fryers.



And everyone rose to the occasion! It was so fun watching the volunteers take ownership, especially when it was an assertive wee-spright of a lass keeping tabs on a Mennonite lady.



Made me chuckle, it did.

This year’s process was the smoothest yet. Aside from being short three bags of mashed potatoes (our church’s senior group mashed all 180 pounds of the potatoes I’d given them, but I should’ve ordered 200 pounds, I guess), everything went swimmingly.






more space equals drier donuts: improving the system

We turned all the dough into donuts (except for one bucket of dough that got skipped over in the proofing room and then fermented — drunk donuts anyone?), used up all but about a couple inches of glaze, and sold out completely. And we kept an official tally so for the first time we actually know how many donuts we made: sixteen thousand, seven hundred and forty, ba-BAM.



In other news, Chiro, Lery, and Demeric made (nearly) six hundred pinchos! Even with a late start and inadequate grills — one didn’t show and another didn’t work right so mid-morning my older two kids had to take leave of the donuts and run home to fetch our grill — the pinchos were a smash hit.









The line was crazy long (Lery said it made her feel panicky so she avoided looking at it), and they sold out completely. To top it all off, they managed to do some fantastic PR (ha! PR for PR, get it?) for MDS. (Currently taking volunteers for the upcoming winter! Sign up here!)






They even made the paper!




And then they came home, cleaned up, and, at nine o'clock, left for DC where — GET THIS — they proceeded to rent bikes and spend the entire night biking around the city before finally, in the early morning hours, making their way to the airport and flying home, crazy-azy-AZY Borinqueños!

Me, on the other hand?


Saturday, 1:13 P.M. 

The end.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (10.10.17), the quotidian (10.10.16), salted caramel ice cream, it's for real, clouds, party on, the quotidian (10.10.11), what we came up with, green soup with ginger.

Monday, October 8, 2018

the quotidian (10.8.18)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


PREACH.
(Also, grammar.)



What distracted looks like.


Even before making donuts: wiped out.



From her auntie, with love: birthday lasagna and cake.



The head strikes again.


Thanks to her Puerto Rican uncles, a new computer screen.


On my way to the hospital to visit a new mama.


Whatever makes your skirt fly up.

This same time, years previous: happy birthday, sweetie!, pasta with chicken, broccoli, and oven-roasted tomatoes, o happy!, catching our breath, one foggy morning, green tomato curry, pie pastry, with lard and egg.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

the quotidian (10.2.18)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


Fall colors.


The milk bar.


Dog pile.


Dog bones.


Snap! goes the rubberband: no more bull.


First time.


For math class: a temporary tat.


Fixing all our computers.


Applesauce.

This same time, years previous: twelve thousand donuts, the soiree of 2014, a lesson I'd rather skip, the quotidian (10.1.12), a book, a dangerous book, pulled braised beef