Monday, March 30, 2020

the quotidian (3.30.20)

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

Perks: when your child takes a job at a CSA

Not our normal fare.

With the leftover potato and onion slices, a fritatta.

Rediscovered: the magic of the seven-minute egg.

She dislikes the texture of nuts in granola so she spent half an hour mincing them into oblivion.

For the love of color.

I must've fussed long enough or yelled loud enough because I finally got my door latches.

Weed therapy.

When the neighbors' wolf pups come to play.

Resident squatter.

He's actually more of a glamper.

Question: What do you do when you total your car?
Answer: Take the salvaged parts and make....

... a five thousand-dollar GTI stereo system. 

This same time, years previous: Asian slaw, for-real serious, the day we did everything, teff pancakes with blueberries, the quotidian (3.28.16), absorbing the words, the quotidian 3.30.15), our oaf, on being together: it's different here somehow, Good Friday fun, the boy and the dishes.

Friday, March 27, 2020

milk bread

Last week when I got the hankering for hamburgers and didn’t have any buns — and I knew the stores probably didn’t either because, when we’d stopped by a couple nights prior to pick up a pack of hotdog buns, there were none — I decided to make my own.

I’d recently discovered milk bread, a bread that relies on a paste of cooked flour and milk for its signature light-and-fluffy texture. After I made the bread the first time, I was hooked. The process was fun — the cooked flour-and-milk gave it a thrill factor — and the billowy bread with its glossy egg wash varnish was delicious.

Now, with no hamburger buns to be had, it occured to me that this bread, with its light, yet firm texture, would make perfect buns.

You know how some burgers buns are so hard and dry that it’s like there’s a war going on between the burger and bun? They are too separate, too different. They don't even try to get along. And then some buns are so inconsequential that they melt right into the burger, completely disintegrating to the point that it feels like you’re eating meat wrapped in a soggy tissue.

These buns, though, were the best of both worlds. They managed to both conform to the burger and hold up against the onslaught of toppings.


Milk Bread 
Adapted from my friend’s recipe and she, in turn, got her inspiration from the blog Curious Nut

Tangzhong is simply the Japanese term for a cooked flour and water (or milk) slurry. (I’d actually first read about the method from a Cook’s Illustrated magazine — I’d even photocopied the recipe because it included step-by-step illustrations for making a challah loaf with four strips of dough — but then I never did anything with it.)

The recipe I’ve been using makes double the amount that I have here — I halved it so it could be made using a stand mixer. Feel free to double it, if you like. (For photos of the rising bread dough and a finished loaf, go here.)

6.5 ounces milk
1.3 ounces bread flour

Measure the milk and flour into a small saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking steadily, until thick. Remove from heat and let cool.

10.5 ounces warm milk
28 grams sugar
16 grams yeast
1½ pounds bread flour
tangzhong mixture
2½ teaspoons salt
2 eggs
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature 
egg wash: one egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water

Measure the warm milk, sugar, and yeast into a large mixing bowl, or in the bowl of your stand mixer. Stir briefly and let rest for ten minutes, or until puffy. Add a pound of the flour and salt and mix to combine. Add the cooled tangzhong. Add the two eggs and the rest of the flour. Add the butter and mix for several minutes. Cover the dough with plastic or a towel (no need to remove it from the mixing bowl) and let rest until doubled.

For loaves: Divide the dough into two parts. Shape into loaves and place in greased pans. Let rest until doubled. Brush the tops with the egg wash. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Turn out of pans onto a baking rack to cool.

For hamburger buns: Divide the dough into two parts. Divide each part into twelve equal sections, making 24 sections. Shape into balls of dough and then press flat into the desired size for your hamburger bun. Place buns on greased, half-baking sheets — 12 per pan. Cover and let rest until doubled. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes.

This same time, years previously: now that she's back, the quotidian (3.26.18), the quotidian (3.27.17), the Tuesday boost, maple pecan scones, the visit, a spat, fabulous fatira, whoopie pies.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

the coronavirus diaries: week three

on a walk with my mom
photo credit: my older daughter

These days, I feel twitchy. On edge.

Our normal homeschool studies, already at a bare minimum, have all but screeched to a halt. Not because we don’t have time — we have all the time in the world — but because I’m too distracted. 

Writing, normally a difficult task, is even harder because I can’t still my racing mind long enough to focus. Which is exactly what I need to do, of course — my brain craves a break.

And so I try to write something, anything...


In the middle of the night when I wake to go to the bathroom, in the fuzzy space between dreamland and wakefulness, consciousness comes in fragments — … falling apart … quarantine ... the entire world … virus … taking over ... trapped — and I think, Wow, what a horrible nightmare, and then, a second later, Oh wait. That’s reality.


Nothing is easy. Even the ordinary things, like reading a book, feel complicated. Because once that book is done, then what? Can I swap books with my mom? With my friends? Do I order from Amazon?


And the absence of routine — church, babysitting, coffee shops, pop-in visits — is more draining than it is freeing. Figuring out what to do instead, or how to live without, sucks energy and takes concentration.

delivery girl: from one quarantined household to another


The deluge of information is overwhelming. At first glance, each new announcement — a hundred more positive cases! such-and-such a famous person sick! yet another preposterous statement! chilling revelation! heartwarming video! — is exciting.

But then the kick of adrenaline fades, leaving behind fear and anxiety, rage, and something akin to grief.

It’s a lot to process.


Everything’s happening so fast. Two days from now — two weeks, two months — what will I be wishing I’d thought of now?

So, at my urging, my husband and I sat down to come up with a plan. We asked ourselves, what do we normally need/do in April, May, and June? If we’re stuck at home, what projects might we tackle? What materials might we need? What should we buy now to keep the house running smoothly?

Our list wasn’t that long — the headlight on the car is out; the riding mower needs some repairs; we’re almost out of lightbulbs; the propane tanks should be refilled; we ought to refill our gas cans and maybe get a couple more; it wouldn’t hurt to buy a little extra flour — but it felt good to think things through.

What am I forgetting?


Yesterday I went to Costco. I was a little nervous about what I’d find, but the store was wonderfully calm.

Precautionary measures were everywhere: An employee was wiping down carts. Posted signs reminded customers to stay six feet apart. Stands of antibacterial wipes were at the entrance and exit. Open registers were staggered, and the checkout was a single line at the head of which was an employee allowing customers to pass when a register became available.

Some items were missing — no chicken, no frozen beef, no frozen peas and broccoli, no toilet paper (of course) — and certain things, like butter and oil and sugar, were restricted to just one per customer, but most of the shelves were full.

Since I was also shopping for my brother’s family, who is quarantined right now, and, even though we had lots of duplicates between our two carts, they let us pay for everything with my membership card, no problem.

photo credit: my older daughter

I followed up at Food Lion to fill in the gaps, but there were still a number of things (frozen orange juice, rubbing alcohol, frozen peas, toilet paper) that we couldn’t find. The whole hit-or-miss nature of shopping is so similar to what it’s like in other countries I’ve lived in — everything simply isn’t always available.

Which is a new concept for us, here.

And a bit of a rude awakening. We aren’t invincible after all.


One of my friends was recently very sick. We (I, she, her doctor, etc) were sure it was Covid-19, but her test came back negative. Which made me wonder: is there such a thing as a false negative?

When I mentioned this to my brother, he sent me this article. So I’m not the only one asking this question!

And when I mentioned this to Kim, she said that her friend in the UK never had the test but, after a week, they considered her a confirmed case, based on her symptoms only. Will the U.S. start doing this soon, too?

Then just today my brother sent me a new link: false positives are unlikely; false negatives are more likely.


If you have time to listen to just one thing today, let it be this: Monday’s Fresh Air interview with Max Brooks, an apocalyptic novelist who is somewhat of an expert on pandemics. At Mom’s urging, I’d started listening to it yesterday afternoon but then stopped — I wanted the whole family to hear it.

So last night, after our supper of Thai chicken curry and rice (I found chicken at Food Lion), we lingered at the table, listening. Even though there was nothing pleasant about the truth of our situation, just hearing someone speak about the issues plainly, with intelligence and thoughtfulness, gave me hope.


And, for a little humor, this lovely, spot-on essay written by one of my friends: Mom, You’re Grounded.


Jesus Loves Me is longer than 20 seconds.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (3.25.19), the solo, apricot couronne, more springtime babies, the pigpen, the quotidian (3.24.14), the walk home, of a moody Sunday, sour cherry crumb pie.

Monday, March 23, 2020

the quotidian (3.23.20)

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

Quick thaw.

Green rice: a good idea needs more salt and maybe a hit of lemon.


When the crust is so packed with butter that it pools on the oven floor, oops. 

And then I got smart: no drips and a perfectly browned bottom crust. 

How did I ever manage without this island?

The trail I leave.

Churching with Ted and breakfast.


A cyclical breathing demonstration.

Beer tasting: when your houseguest has a passion and wants to share it.

A new job for gardener girl: season's bounty

Who let the cows out, moo.

Preparing to run errands.

Blowing off steam.

Perks of zooming.

She's quite fond of her two-leggeds.

Family gathering.

Coffee drinker. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

from my sister-in-law in Hong Kong: covid-19 at the two-month mark

As per my request, my sister-in-law Kim has kindly jotted down some notes about what it’s been like living under the cloud of the coronavirus for the last two months. Then, based on her notes, I cobbled together a Q and A, of sorts. I find her practical, upbeat perspective to be calming, and wise, and hopefully you will, too.

Disclaimer #1: Hong Kong is not the United Sates. Hong Kong has done an excellent job containing the virus; the United States, not so much. Two months from now, our situation may look a lot different than what theirs looks like.

Disclaimer #2: It is crucial that we are discerning about who we listen to, regarding this pandemic. We are living in a rapidly changing world, and the science about Covid-19 is constantly evolving. Kim is not a medical professional; her perspective and advice are entirely anecdotal. Refer to the experts for the facts.


How have you managed to stay sane?
I started some new projects and doing some new activities, like worm composting and gluten-free baking and sourdough baking. I began reading out loud to my son in an effort to reduce screen time and we are both enjoying it. I have occasional weekday lunches with friends to support the local food and beverage industry.

I’m reading a 1000-page Churchill biography. I read some advice on an Instagram account that said the best way to tackle these long, non-fiction books is a bit at time: read 10-15 pages per day in addition to whatever else you are reading and you will get through it in a couple of months. Currently, I’m about one-third through.

I have started mask-wearing in public. I struggled with this initially as it does not protect the wearer, but it may protect others from what you have, and since it is the social norm in HK, I am now 100% on board.

Recently, I began a meditation program. I figured it can't hurt, and I have the time!!

How are the kids doing?
Luckily I know what homeschooling looks like, thanks to my in-laws, and this helped manage expectations. The kids' school has been fantastic with getting online and neither child is in a crucial exam year so I am not too worried. Both kids also have fairly decent study habits, so I’m grateful for that.

And socially? How are they coping? 
My son, age 11, has a friend in the complex and they play every day, alternating media and non media. This resulted in a complete clean-out of our dropped ceilings as they got the ladder out and discovered everything that had been shot/thrown/launched up there in the past 4.5 years that we've been in this place. I had to put my foot down with the laser tag in my bedroom after they took a chunk of my wall out. Luckily, Tim is fairly good at spackling. That said, I know my son is feeling underlying stress because it is affecting his skin — hence the gluten-free baking.

My daughter, age 13, is on her phone a lot more than usual. I let it slide as she is an extremely social child and she misses the daily interaction with her friends. Her sleep habits are erratic: some nights she’s up past midnight, and some nights she goes to bed early. As long as she is up by registration —called “tutor time” — when they have a roll call and get announcements about upcoming school stuff, I don't say anything. (I’m usually a bedtime-and-sleep hygiene fanatic, so this takes some effort on my part.) She is allowed to go out and meet friends, although not all her friends are allowed to leave their homes. She also goes for sleepovers and does school with friends for the day; we alternate houses for this.

Has Tim been able to continue working? 
Yes. Starting in February, all his travel was cancelled, and he began working from home two days a week. He still goes into the office the other days, and he’s used public transportation throughout, wearing masks and washing hands before and after. One day he forgot his mask and felt the red hot stare of every single person who laid eyes one him — and he is a person who generally does not recognize any social cues!!! Now he comes home to get a mask if he forgets.

How have your views of the situation changed and evolved over the last two months? 
In Hong Kong everyone self-quarantined from the get-go due to their experience with SARS, which had a much higher fatality rate. At first, I thought people were overreacting, but in hindsight I see that it was the right thing to do.

The virus has changed Hong Kong, too. Until the virus hit, there were violent protests every week. There were armed riot police on street corners; it was a bit of a scary time for a while. The protests created a real rift in society, and even in families, between those who supported the protestors and those who supported the police and government — some parents threw their adult children out of the family for going out to march. But then the virus came along and boom! Social order was restored for the time being.

Ironically, the government passed a no-mask wearing law last year as protesters wore them to disguise themselves and protect against tear gas. That has fallen by the wayside!

Putting life on hold for so long must be so hard. So many opportunities lost…. 
The disappointments — the cancellations of long-awaited trips and school events, among other things — are too numerous to mention. We are in uncharted waters, and yet we are extremely fortunate in so many ways. This is where Tim accuses me of relentless optimism (haha) as I focus on us: We have our health. We have our jobs. Our kids have access to great online learning, and we are all together. We have everything.

What advice do you have for us? 
I have let go of all expectations bar doing school work and being online when you are supposed to be. If you have to put the TV on and let the kids veg in front of it, do it. Don’t feel bad.

I recommend exercise of some form to keep sane. Walking around the yard, anything! For the kids especially. Also, see friends in outdoor environments — close friend you know haven’t been anywhere and who won’t be seeing the elderly or other vulnerable people.

We all need grace. People have different levels of comfortability and that's okay. I've learned to say, "I would like to do such-and-such together, if you're comfortable," and then be honestly okay with their answer.

Keep a sense of humor. It’s so important.

Hope for the best; prepare for the worst. It is going to be a challenge for the next few months so you need to feel all your emotions. Once a few weeks pass, you will have some sort of routine.

Breathe deeply.


Thank you so much, Kim! Sending you love. 

P.S. This video — measured and sobering — is one of the best I've seen yet. And here's an article addressing something that many people my age are struggling with: Convincing Boomer Parents to Take the Coronavirus Seriously. (I am so grateful my parents are receptive to our concerns.)

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (3.18.19), a good reminder, the last weekend, the quotidian (3.17.14), the creative norm, no buffer, family time, our house lately.

Monday, March 16, 2020

the quotidian (3.16.20)

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

Hot and steamy.

Books  they're what's for (with) breakfast. 

Cooking shows: we react to them differently. 
(This one's fun.)


Careful: beauty's a trap.


Church looked a little different this week.

Preparing for her driving test: she passed it this morning!

Girlfriend is getting tall. Put her in heels and she towers. 

SWOC: studying while on call.

This same time, years previous: puff pastry, expanded, fresh ginger cookies, good writing, all things Irish, raspberry ricotta cakethe quotidian (3.16.15), chocolate babka, warmth, cornmeal blueberry scones, perfect pretzels with a side of poison.