Author Archive

We Who Are Your Closest Friends

I came across this poem while reading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott and laughed out loud immediately. I think your reaction to the first time you read this poem is a kind of Rorschach test.

phillip lopate, 1943
(from poets.org)

we who are
your closest friends
feel the time
has come to tell you
that every Thursday
we have been meeting
as a group
to devise ways
to keep you
in perpetual uncertainty
frustration
discontent and
torture
by neither loving you
as much as you want
nor cutting you adrift

your analyst is
in on it
plus your boyfriend
and your ex-husband
and we have pledged
to disappoint you
as long as you need us

in announcing our
association
we realize we have
placed in your hands
a possible antidote
against uncertainty
indeed against ourselves
but since our Thursday nights
have brought us
to a community of purpose
rare in itself
with you as
the natural center
we feel hopeful you
will continue to make
unreasonable
demands for affection
if not as a consequence
of your
disastrous personality

then for the good of the collective

Posted by on January 16th, 2019

Why Popular Vote Will Never Go Through

TIL: they let people vote on the name for Huntsville, AL’s minor league baseball team. They are now:

The Rocket City Trash Pandas.

I want a shirt. Immediately.

Posted by on January 16th, 2019

Cream Puffins

Happy New Year!

I spent my New Year’s eve making pastry. Specifically:

CREAM PUFFINS.

Go forth and make your own little flock, they’re delicious!

Posted by on January 1st, 2019

Embossed Cookie Roller

I’m a catalog window shopper. It started when I was little; my grandmother received a variety of catalogs but for some reason, I gravitated to Swiss Colony and (get this) Carolina Biological Supply. Yes, that’s right, my childhood reading included a heaping mix of attractively packaged sweets (the petit-fours in particular) and pickled frogs. It’s true.

But anyway, that’s just the amusing beginnings of my habit of browsing catalogs. I get one from King Arthur Flour. I’m a reasonably intermediate baker, so I mostly skim it in search of inspiration, but the one thing I’ve always admired are the springerle cookies. Their crisp detail elevates them to miniature artworks – the best kind, because you can eat them.

Now, until recently I had yet to conquer properly molded shortbread (I’m nearly there now, though.) And then these wonderful rolling pins arrived under my Christmas tree:

Hedgehog. Rolling. Pin.

I also received foxes and owls, but everyone knows the hedgies score highest in the “Woo!” factor. Also, penguins.

Anyway, I looked up a springerle recipe from KAF and proceeded. Using one of these pins requires arriving at the intersection of the following conditions:

  1. Properly prepped pins. I sprayed mine with oil and then dusted lightly with flour. After the moon cake fiasco, I know better than to trust an untreated wooden mold.
  2. Properly chilled dough. Too warm and it sticks. Too cold and it will be too stiff to roll.
  3. Proper baking directions (more on that in a second.)
  • So I made the dough to spec and proceeded with baking. Round one:
  • Embossed Rolling Pin cookie.

    Embossed Rolling Pin cookie.

  • Burned after 12 minutes, and not a good impression. Recipe baking time said 10-12 min, and I usually use the longer time on the first batch. Alterations: return dough to fridge to chill firmer, press harder on the roller next time, reduce baking time to 10 min.
  • Round 2:
  • Embossed Rolling Pin cookie.

    Embossed Rolling Pin cookie.

  • Thinner cookies, a much better impression, but still burned at 10 minutes. Chill dough further, and reduce baking time again.
  • Round 3:
  • Embossed Rolling Pin cookie.

    Embossed Rolling Pin cookie.

  • Success! Reduced baking time to 5 minutes (these are probably thinner than the KAF recipe intends) but they baked beautifully, and the dough took quite a good impression.
  • Here are the owls:
  • Embossed Rolling Pin cookie.

    Embossed Rolling Pin cookie.

  • (Because they’re from Poland, they say Hoo! Hoo!)
  • And the foxes:
  • Embossed Rolling Pin cookie.

    Embossed Rolling Pin cookie.

  • I love this tool because I can press out a ton of impressively cute cookies with a minimum of effort. I may have to start collecting.
  • The recipe as written produces an okay cookie. It’s mechanically sound (bakes well once you get the conditions right), but I’d personally prefer something a little more like a speculoos cookie – crisper, a little sweeter, more spices. I’ll be monkeying with the recipe to see if I can achieve such a thing but presumably I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. But – woo! Or should I say, Hoo!
  • Posted by on December 28th, 2018

    Why Can’t I Seem To Cook Chinese Food? Part one

    Question time! Today’s question:

    Why don’t my Chinese food recipes ever taste like they do in the restaurant? The meat is always too dry, and the spices are always a little off.

    Ah, this is a good one, and the issues should be easily traceable. We’ll start with:

    Problem One: The Meat

    Your beef is probably turning out better than your pork, especially ground pork, am I right? I’ll bet most of your issues revolve around pork dishes. I partly blame the failure of the US consumers to properly learn their meat cuts (hint: “Angus” isn’t a part), but a heavy share of the blame rightly belongs to recipes that fail to specify a particular cut of pork.

    Because there are a lot of pork parts, and Chinese, (like the French), love them some piggo. Fun fact: the pictogram for “family/house” in Chinese is a roof over… a pig.

    China Daily USA: Why there’s a pig in it

    Meat, part one: Fat Content

    Anyhow. Let’s say you find a recipe that asks for ground pork. You pick up a package from the grocery that says “ground pork” but the problem is, unlike the beeves, there isn’t any fat content listed. Heck, you don’t even know what scraps they used to make this batch. Was it loin (totally lean)? Or shoulder (lots of connective tissue)? Or ham, or belly (sooo much fat)? That package could be lots of fat, or virtually none. And what you need is lots of fat.

    Unfortunately, most packages will be lean scraps, and so when you cook with it, what little fat there is will run out with the juices and leave you with a dry, mealy-tasting mixture.

    The Fix

    I’ve done one of two things, both of which seem to work well. If you’re making a recipe where the pork is not cased, add ground pork belly. That’s bacon, for the uninformed. I have a meat grinder attachment so I can grind at will, but for those of you not so fortunate, just ask the butcher at your meat counter to do it for you. Those guys do all kinds of stuff, even debone a shoulder and cube it for you. I love them.

    I would add at least 2 oz belly for every 8 oz unidentified ground. Mix and use.

    For recipes where the pork will be encased (think wontons, etc), you can massage in extra bacon fat saved from baking your morning breakfast batch. About 2 Tbs per 8 oz ground will suffice.

    Next time, Meat, Part two: The Cuts.

    Posted by on October 11th, 2018

    Moon Cakes 2018

    Every year, a pastry tidal wave of moon cakes rolls in. They arrive in stamped tin boxes, elaborately wrapped bakery trays, simple cellophane wrappers. They are huge (six inches across, three inches high, with a chiseled golden pastry crust), modest (flaky pastry crust, bite-sized puck), or just plain exotic (squishy, or depicting exposed buttocks).

    Serious Eats

    It’s like a warm up for New Year’s celebrations: gather the family, eat until bursting, and pass around questionable desserts. We’ve had thousands of years to work this out.

    Wooden moon cake molds

    Wooden moon cake molds

    This year, I have decided to try making my own moon cakes. Mom gave me two beautiful wooden molds a few years ago, but the project stalled due to a lack of time and has languishing in mothball land ever since.

    Until now.

    Earlier this year I attempted zhong zi, with encouraging results. And if I can survive Chinese tamales, then surely I can manage finicky baked goods? Right. Here goes.

    Posted by on September 25th, 2018

    Credit History: Getting High School Credit for your Homeschool Work

    Many homeschool parents wonder in the back of their minds: just how long can I do this? How far can I take my student? Naturally, high school is often a sticking point.

    I’ve heard from other parents, “I can teach through middle school but after that, they’re going to high school.” Many are intimidated by their own memories of high school math and sciences, while others worry about the scope and rigor of the humanities.

    We’re fortunate to live in an area where there are many good options for grades 9-12, so transitioning from home school to high school is not an uncommon choice.

    In Maryland, the state does not award diplomas to home school students at graduation. Credits needed to earn a diploma are only granted by state-accredited institutions – the state won’t grant a diploma based on your home school portfolio review.

    However, if you choose to enroll your student in public school during their high school years, your still may be granted credit for their home school work. Here’s how the general process works in my county:

    Credit is determined by subject. Assemble your portfolio materials and bring it to your school, usually to your student’s academic/guidance counselor. The review seems to generally be conducted by the head of that academic department. Under state law, the school can include tests, exams, or interviews with the student to determine placement or credit.

    Upon application of a child for admission to a public school from a home instruction program,the local superintendent shall determine by an evaluation the placement of the child and anycredits to be awarded toward high school graduation. The evaluation may includeadministration of standardized tests and examinations and interviews with the child.

    Maryland COMAR 13A.10.01.04 I recently went through this with my school, and the results were varied. Math was the easiest, we were granted credit immediately.  English took a little longer but credit was granted there, as well. We’re working through the process with biology, and I’ll keep you updated on how that goes.

    Why go through all the trouble? Because you need a certain number of credits, per subject, to graduate. If you don’t try to claim your home school work for credit, you either have to enroll in summer school, or else take academic classes where you would otherwise have taken electives. 

    Next time: looking at portfolio assembly for math.

    Posted by on September 4th, 2018

    Lip Balm Quest

    Related image

    The lip balm conundrum: why do we pay $4 for a tube that contains a fraction of an ounce of mostly beeswax, which is supposed to keep our lips hydrated and supple (the two most overused words in the lip-related beauty industry), and then you end up with chapped lips. After using the product.

    What the hell is that, beauty industry?

    We’re not talking about the sweetened, candy-flavored stuff. The flavoring agents in those products make you lick your lips more often, which in turn leads to the chapping. No mystery there.

    Image result for chicken poop lip balm

    No, I’m talking about stuff like Burt’s Bees, which is markets itself as a natural, earth-hugging, love your body kind of formula. I’ve tried their product multiple times over the last ten years and always thought the problem was me. I have excema to begin with, but then why do my lips start peeling in teeny strips when I start putting on lip balm? Was I not applying it enough? Was I using it wrong? This is all natural, no wacky petro-chemicals, right? So of course the product isn’t the problem…  right?

    It turns out, my genius child informs me, that some lip balm ingredients that are supposed to enrich the formula will actually dry out your lips. So, now I need to start tracking my lip balms so I don’t beat my head against the proverbial wall, because unless I start making my own again, this is going to add up.

    Good

    The current go-to: Simone Chickenbone’s Chicken Poop. I picked up a tube because I thought it was funny but, to my delight, it is far and away the best lip balm I’ve tried yet. I buy two or three at a time and leave them all over the place because that’s how often I use lip balm: one on the night stand, one in the purse, one in my winter coat, you name it.

    Image result for chapstick day and night

    Chapstick Hydration Lock: the You Hate Te Earth people will howl at me over this one, but this is a double-ended tube with “day” and “night” formulas, and the night formula was fan-tas-tic. And now, of course, I can’t find the product. Probably discontinued, just like the fizzy Ricolas.

     

    Bad

    Image result for burts bees

    Burt’s Bees: I came back to this product over and over again, trying their various flavors and styles. I’m pretty religious about using lip balm because I chap pretty easily, and without fail, after two or three days, my lips would start peeling. I hear Burt’s use of peppermint oil may be the culprit, but all I can say is that it’s a no-go for me.

    Image result for carmex

    Carmex: I used this when I was younger. Gave it up because I was no longer keen on the hygenic repercussions of applying lip balm with my fingers.

    Image result for chicken poop la chick

    La Chick Poo Poo Glace: This is the tinted lip balm from Simone Chickenbone. I picked up the three-pack (three colors) in the hopes that it would be a nicely tinted version of the regular stuff but, alas, it is not so. I found the formula much softer than the original, and a bit more drying. The colors are nice, but the balm doesn’t work for me.

    Elsen Grapefruit: Picked it up at a natural foods store. Went on silky (actually, a little too slippery for me), but seemed to be doing okay. And now I’m chapping. As much as I would like to support a local business, I’m going to have to move on.

    Once upon a time, I had the time and materials to make my own. And it was darn good, actually. The key to achieving a properly textured balm (of any kind, actually, not just for lips) is knowing what your ingredients do at room temperature. Combine the right amounts of solids, semi-solids, and liquids, and you get a beauty of a product. Watch:

    • Your base: beeswax. This is like the framework on which you hang all the other ingredients. Plain, and too harsh to use on its own, but smells nice. A good place to start
    • Your solid oils: shea or mango butters. At room temperature, they’re fairly solid, but if you hold a block in your hand, you start to feel it leave a rich residue just by warming from your body heat. Still too tough to use on its own though.
    • Your semi-solid oils: coconut oil is a favorite, but also polarizing- do you want the aroma or not? There are some other semi-solids available (just surf the oils aisle at the local hippie market) but coconut is cheap and easy to obtain.
    • Your liquid oils: walnut, almond, mineral, olive, I recommend you pick one that’s fairly unscented and reasonably stable.

    So, using mostly beeswax and then picking a variety of other oils, you just melt and pour. You can take your excess mix and freeze it, and then hack off and melt small quantities as you want it.

    Posted by on July 26th, 2018

    FIVE Free Practice Maryland MVA Driver’s Tests

    Remember going for your driver’s license? I don’t know about you, but I figured the road test would be a piece of cake. It was the written test that scared me. 

    Guess what, Maryland people: you can take the practice written test for free, courtesy of your public library. In fact, the driving test site provides *five* free practice tests. And a test on signs. And signs and situations. Grab your library card and GO PRACTICE RIGHT NOW.

    Link: https://montgomerymd.driving-tests.org/maryland/

    Posted by on June 2nd, 2018

    Math Mondays from Makezine

     

    Link: https://makezine.com/tag/MathMonday/

    I recently discovered Math Mondays from Makezine, which combines two things I think are required to make a great learning experience: hands on, with a practical application. Try making Escher’s famous Relativity from a single sheet of paper – go ahead, it really works!

    Posted by on May 31st, 2018