This Kitchen Accessory Tugs on Your Heartstrings

14 Jul

Last weekend, the Boy and I went up to Vermont (report to come), and on the way we stopped at Saxtons River Distillery in Brattleboro–well, more like, we read about it at the Vermont Welcome Center on I-91, and when we happened to be driving past, we took a hard right into the parking lot.

While the Boy was talking with the owner, I wandered around the shop and saw these cutting boards on a little display with a series of notes telling the story of why a distillery was selling unbranded cutting boards.

The boards happen to the be the work of the owner’s kids, who started selling them because they wanted to get a beta fish and a hamster. “Also save some to pay for our colleges.”

In the first update, they’d ended up buying gerbils (and thank you for the help, customers); however, gerbils need ongoing care, so they’re still selling the boards to pay for their upkeep. Then in the second update, disaster! While they’re still trying to earn money for college, they need to replace one of their gerbils because their cat killed it. “So we need to buy a new one. Also buy a new lid for the cage.”

How can you not want to help?

The owner told us the backstory–The kids want extra pets, but the household rule is that they’re going to have to pay for them. He actually cuts the boards because the kids are too young to work the saw, but they attach feet and put on the finish. The gerbils are fun, but they like to chew on things and are masters of getting out of their cages, so that’s how one of them met an unfortunate end with the cat.

The cutting board itself is quite nice (cherry wood) and is a decent size–and when I use it, I think of these kids and their quest for pets (and college). Makes me smile thinking that I’ve helped a little bit–and I’ve helped a parent teach his children a good lesson about work and money, which will definitely help them in the future.

 

What’s Your Four?

7 Jul

Summer Reading 2017 - Bring me all of the books!

Have you seen that LitHub story about the book hoarders that’s been floating around the web? Both the Boy and I read it, which got us wondering how many books we actually own. I mean, we have a lot of books, but we also live in a smallish apartment, so there’s not a ton of space to really, you know, have a library.

And then we did a little bit of counting and a lot of estimating….and figured that we have probably close to 1,000 books.

Wow.

Considering that we have a problem with tsundoku, I’m feeling compelled to make a dent in reading what’s on the shelves. Luckily, it’s summer reading time in this part of the world, and I thought that this year, I’d take part in a little summer reading effort Massachusetts is promoting called Read Four.

Read Four is really targeted toward children and teens to keep them reading during the summer so they don’t fall behind when school starts up again; however, I will take their proclamation, “The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners is challenging all [my emphasis] residents of Massachusetts to read four books this summer,” to heart, so I plan to read as much as I can this summer to stoke my creativity and feel less guilty whenever I look at the bookshelves in my home.

The stack above is what I’m hoping to finish in good time, and it includes the books I started reading at the beginning of summer. I’m actually on my fourth book now: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. I read a book by her sister Nicola earlier this year, but I picked up this book last Christmas during the annual family day-after-Christmas trip to Barnes & Noble. I’m hoping it’s equally as fun and escapist as my first three reads have been: the Sophie Kinsella, Rollergirl and Desperate in Dubai. All three have been breezy and entertaining–the last one particularly was fun for the cultural insight into Dubai, which made me want to go back even more (and also because I spent a fair amount of time looking up the Arabic phrases sprinkled throughout).

So those are my four–or nine, as the case might be. What are your four?

 

This DIY Trick Can Suck It

30 Jun
Make your own powdered sugar!

What do you think? Can we make this work?

A few weeks ago, I had a little baking crisis. We were having people over to celebrate a friend’s birthday, and in the middle of making the cake (THE CAKE), I realized I didn’t have enough powdered sugar to make all of the frosting we’d need for it.

On top of this, it was a holiday weekend and the stores were full, and I’d pretty much promised the Boy, No, we really aren’t going to need to go to the store to pick up anything else. I’ve got it all under control.

Ha!

At the point I realized I needed more powdered sugar, the Boy asked, “Do you want me to go to the store and get some more?”

“Well, I don’t….no, it’ll be fine….we’ll just go with–wait! I can make some!”

Now, I’d read about making your own powdered sugar. It saves you so much money! It’s so quick to make! Why would anyone in their right mind buy powdered sugar when you can do it yourself?!

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Yes! It’s supposed to be easy!” And I scuttled around the kitchen to make this flash of genius happen.

The recipes I found do vary (some add corn starch to prevent clumping), but basically, you put a cup of regular sugar into a blender and blend it until it’s the fine consistency of powdered sugar. This is supposed to take all of 30 seconds. Here’s how it went down for me:

Blender - circa late 1990s. It still works!

Here’s the blender. This blender is likely at least 20 years old. We don’t use it much.

Blender -- Yes, you need to see this angle too!

In case you didn’t know, here’s the inside of a blender. I just thought I’d show you.

We're gonna make our own powdered sugar! This is gonna be great!

Put on your imagination caps here, readers. Pretend that I’m pouring some Sugar in the Raw into the blender. I forgot to document the entire process for you, as I was in kind of a rush that day, but as successful cooking blogs show, more pictures are necessary to guide your readers through every step of the process.

If you’re ready to say, “Jill! Sugar in the Raw?! That’s not going to work–the granules are too big!” I’d like to respond that according to the package, this Sugar in the Raw was “great for baking.” Why, then, wouldn’t it be just as great for making powdered sugar?

Not-so-powdered sugar

This is what it looked like when it was done. You’d think it’s fine, but then you taste-test it….

Not-so-powdered sugar is not going to make tasty frosting.

….and you discover that it’s really gritty and is nothing like the consistency of powdered sugar. It’s close though. So you put it back in the blender and keep blending until either your ears give out or you start to smell a smoking blender motor.

And yet, it doesn’t get finer.

Will this mock me from the pantry?

At some point, you say, “Fuck it! I’m done with this!” and you slap a lid onto the container of semi-powdered sugar and throw it into a cabinet because you just can’t bear to throw it out yet. It can either sit in the pantry and mock you, or perhaps on a different day, you’ll finish off the project.

At the first sign of swearing, the Boy hears his cue that it’s time to go to the store. In no time, he’s back with your true friend:

Real powdered sugar!

 

Which makes excellent frosting. And costs $1.89, which is close to what you’ve just spent on regular sugar, electricity to make the blender run, and soap and water to clean it. Plus I have enough leftover to use on another recipe.

This isn’t a DIY trick, my friends, it’s DIY trickery. Don’t believe the hype.

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Update-o-rama!

23 Jun

It’s been a while since I’ve shared my writing accomplishments, so this week I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve published recently. April, May and June have been busy–some of the busiest months in my writing career–and exciting months in terms of how my career has grown. I’ve gotten the chance to work on a number of different writing styles, and I appreciate getting experience that expands my skills and has given me some interesting insight into a number of different topics. Here’s a look at the new types of work I’ve been doing:

Whitepapers

I’ve published my first whitepaper, “Managing ATM Security: Layered Approaches for 21st Century Issues,” with ATM Marketplace. First off, ATM security is tough these days–the kinds of attacks criminals and hackers develop are pretty amazing (and if they applied that creativity in a positive way, how would that help society?!), so financial institutions (or FIs, if you want to use some industry lingo) really need to develop multifaceted security approaches to ward them off.

Stringing

I’m really excited about my new gig as a stringer with GateHouse Media, the owner of WickedLocal-branded papers in the Boston area, because I’m redeveloping my skills in covering local news, writing on tighter deadlines and getting harder journalism experience. So far I’ve published pieces on Cambridge’s new retail strategy plan and its redevelopment of the Foundry Building. Gaining more insight on the region has been a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to writing more–future stories are in the works!

Content Producing

In May I had the opportunity to produce the copy for U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Low-Interest Credit Cards of 2017.” This project gave me a chance to work with a content producer, and I had a great experience with a collaborative editing process. Although it’s not a bylined piece, I’m really pleased with the finished product and got some insight into content production and how it helps publications in a world that requires constant content.

If you’re interested in learning more or have needs for a writer in these areas, please drop me a line!

 

Postcard from Ohio

16 Jun
Pressed Penny machine in an Ohio rest stop along I-90. What a monstrosity! Click through to find out why!

What’s wrong with this picture?

Oh, Ohio.

I used to look forward to finding a great pressed penny machine at your I-90 rest areas. But this? This newfangled “penny press” machine? No.

First off, it’s electric. What a waste of energy. Traditional pressed penny machines with a hand crank don’t need electricity–people make them work! Do these break down more (I’m sure there’s got to be some issue with active kids overturning a handle until it breaks, but still)?

Secondly, pressing a button and watching the machine do its thing is boring. Part of the fun of the machine is getting to make the penny yourself. Not that you have a ton of control over what it looks like, but it’s a lot of fun to crank that handle and see what comes out. Sometimes the penny comes out long, sometimes it’s fat. It’s always a surprise. Passively watching the machine work disconnects you from the process. The penny becomes something you gather, not something you’ve made.

Thirdly, it’s a buck. I realize that pressed penny prices for the most part haven’t changed much over the years — most machines are two quarters and one penny, except for those lame machines that are four quarters, or even worse, the machines at Lincoln Park Zoo that are five quarters, one of which is pressed. Why do I want a pressed quarter? It doesn’t fit into a pressed penny wallet! A quarter is actually useful to buy other things!

At any rate, it’s expensive for a tiny souvenir. I get that people might have a dollar in their wallet versus 51 cents, but still. If pressed pennies are going to cost a dollar, that’s something I might take a pass on–well, actually, I did. My philosophy has always been that whenever I see a pressed penny machine, I get one design. If I don’t like the design (“lucky penny” and “I love you” designs are lame in my book–a pressed penny should say something about a particular place), or by some fluke, have all of the designs, I skip the machine. Driving across Ohio, I should’ve picked up three or four pennies. Instead, I got one, because only saw one design I liked enough to spend a dollar on. Who’s losing here?

Let’s not make this a trend, Ohio. Modernity isn’t always progress. Other owners of these machines, you’re on notice.

Your pal,

Jill

Well, That Was Quick

2 Jun

While folding a load of laundry today, I discovered this:

A sad moment, considering that I’d just written about them, but maybe this guy couldn’t handle the pressures of fame, the pressure of living up to the dream of being the ultimate sock in the drawer–that sole sock that knew the history of my feet better than I did.

But I have at least one other pair just like this–and it’s continuing with the dream of eternal sock longevity.

[Hopefully my grandiose dreams won’t result in another follow-up post next week with another sad picture of holey socks. I’d take that as a sure sign.]

Waiting for the ‘Wear it Out’

26 May

socks.jpeg

There comes a point in time when something that’s potentially embarrassing becomes an exciting challenge, and I’ve hit that point with these socks.

I’ve had these socks for a long time–probably a good 12 to 15 years, although time is relative because there were many years that I avoided wearing them in favor of other socks. They’re pretty thick, so they were too hot in the summer; because they’re anklets, they were often too cold in winter. Now that they’re fairly threadbare on bottom, they’re just about right.

The Boy saw me put them on one day and kindly suggested that I retire them. He’s one to talk, as Old Stripey still takes up space in his closet. Old Stripey is a short-sleeved button-down white dress shirt with bluish and reddish vertical stripes. It’s at least 20 years old, though I think I’m being kind with that number. The Boy doesn’t wear short-sleeved dress shirts–if it’s a short-sleeved button-down, it’s a Hawaiian shirt.

Why is it so beloved that it has a name? Well, we live in New England in an apartment with closets that any HGTV-home-searching couple would reject in an instant, so space is at a premium. We don’t really have the room to house clothes that we don’t really wear.

I was cleaning out one day, and since I’d never seen him wear this shirt, I thought maybe he’d want to donate it.

“Not Old Stripey!”

“What?! This shirt has a name? And you think it still fits?”

Gauntlet thrown, he squeezed into Old Stripey, and by some miracle, no seams ripped or buttons popped off.

“See! It fits! We’re keeping Old Stripey!”

OK, we’re keeping Old Stripey. He’s been hanging out with us ever since. Never worn, but the proof of fit still happens on a regular basis.

Needless to say, based on Old Stripey, I can keep my socks for a while longer. Sure, I don’t really need to keep this particular pair–my sock drawer is full of socks that are in much better condition. Why keep these?

Well, one day I put them on thinking that my heel would poke through immediately, and that didn’t happen. Then I thought for sure the threadbare area would rip in the wash. That didn’t happen either. Now the question is, how strong is this amazing thread?

So far, they’ve lasted the entire winter, with no signs of ripping. I wear them at least once a week–more if I do laundry more often–so they’re getting regular use. Can they go the entire summer? Can they make it to 2018? Looks be damned, that’s a challenge I want to try.

Unless I make a bargain with Old Stripey.

 

 

 

 

Link

Censored!

19 May

A few years ago, I picked up this copy of Bill Buford’s Heat in a used bookstore. I’d heard good things about it and wanted to use it for research to get an idea of what it’s like to work in a restaurant kitchen.

Here’s the thing with used books: You never know what you’re going to get. I was reading away, enjoying the book, when I flipped the page to this:

Wait a sec–the black bar? What’s so bad that I shouldn’t read it?

I flipped the page and held the book up to the light. Oh, I thought. It’s “got cocky. Someone thought I shouldn’t read that.”

That made me chuckle, but as you might imagine from what I’ve heard about the back of house in restaurants, this was just the beginning of the censorship. A few fucks were crossed out, maybe some other words–the censor got really good with their blackout technique.

Then there was this choice:

 

 

 

So…..let’s cross out every time “fucking” was used, but “bastards” can stay in?

 

 

 

 

 

But the last straw was this:

 

This little passage must have gotten the censor really angry, because any word that’s part a sexual suggestion has been blacked out. Like “kissing.” Bad!

I don’t understand–if the book’s so horrid that someone was compelled to censor it, why even bother to make sure it exists anyway? Why not just recycle it back to the pulp from whence it came? I can’t imagine the couple of bucks they got for it really was worth the effort of all of this fine handiwork.

And if it was, this book certainly landed in the wrong hands, because I don’t give a fuck about they think.

 

Postcard from Niagara Falls

12 May

If you find yourself traveling in the Buffalo area, you might think, Hey, maybe I should duck over and see Niagara Falls while they’re so close. And that’s a good thought to have — they’re pretty spectacular. But if you’re not from around the area and trying to find parking, you’ll probably end up in the official State Park parking lot, which costs $10.

Seems like a decent chunk of change to go glance at some water, right?

Not to worry! The State Park parking lot gives you 20 minutes of free parking, which is plenty of time to get a Niagara Falls experience.

Take a parking ticket, and park in a spot that gives you easy exit access. This is important because if you’re running short on time, the last thing you want to do is coast through the parking lot and get stopped by tons of cars pulling in and out of parking spaces.

Now, you book it.

The main access to the Falls is through the visitor’s center. Walk in and go down the stairs that are either on your right or left. Avoid the store at the bottom and walk to the back and out the door. Viola! The falls are right there!

Head over to the railing and look to the left. There’s the falls! Marvel at them, wonder what they look like from the Canadian side (sorry, but they’re better), take some pictures and selfies. Head back quickly–your 20 minutes are almost up and you want to be able to walk like you’re a normal person and not on some non-existent Amazing Race.

That’s it. Head back in, avoid the crowds, head back up the stairs and out of the visitor’s center. What? You wanted a souvenir? Pull four quarters and a penny out of your pocket and make yourself a pressed penny (I know, pressed penny aficionados. Four quarters). The machine is downstairs, next to the door that goes out to the falls. You’ll have time for that.

Once you’re out of the visitor’s center, start walking quickly back to your car. Check your parking ticket–are you still in your 20 minute window? Good! Don’t even bother trying to pay for parking. Even if you’re under 20 minutes, the machine will try to tell you that you owe money. Don’t let it confuse you.

Get back to your car–even if you have to run at this point–and hightail it to the gate. Stick your ticket in the card reader, and congratulations, you’ve just gotten a free quick side trip to Niagara Falls.

 

Getting Culture Where You Can

5 May

When you travel a lot, it sounds impressive. But ask anyone who does some heavy-duty travel, and they’ll tell you it’s not vacation. For whatever trip you’re on, you’re in _______ most of the time–and “_____” is not the pool, or a theme park, or a museum, or the beach. It’s usually an office or a conference room–or in my case, some sort of sporting venue.

I’m fortunate enough to have gone to Argentina, but the majority of my time there was spent here:

In terms of roller derby venues, this one was cool. This room was the handball/futsal part, which connected to a cafeteria and a weight room, other class- and exercise rooms. In the courtyard, girls took roller skating lessons. There was a restaurant and an outdoor seating area that abutted a tennis court. But back to my room for the weekend. For watching derby, it was great because you were above the action.

Still, 75-80% of my week in Argentina was spent here, which means that my exposure to “what is Argentinian” is mostly limited to my hotel room, my walk to and from the venue, and the venue itself–and don’t get me wrong, the venue gave me an interesting insight into some aspect of Latin American culture, as I had a heavy duty conversation about bidets while I was there and that’s something I really don’t think about in America. My narrow window notwithstanding, if I’m to get a feel for the area, it’s likely going to be through food.  Food’s a lifeline to understanding culture, and as I love understanding how other people live (and if they do life better than I), I needed to eat like they did.

Now, Argentina is known for its delicious empanadas. I myself happen to make a decent empanada. I have my own recipe–it’s really the only one I’ve developed so far–and the Boy loves it. It’s not a traditional Argentinian recipe, but I have to say, it’s pretty darned good. Problem is, I like them with cheese, and the Boy doesn’t do dairy, which means there’s a lot of separating going on in our kitchen.

Enter my Argentinian empanada take out experience. On the last night of the tournament, several of us got an empanada delivery of a mix of varieties. With it came the above cheat sheet to tell you which one was which, and then a light bulb went off in my head. Why not fold my cheesy empanadas differently?

This past weekend, I made a big batch–some to share with friends, and some to eat at home. Some with cheese, some without. Since I’d been exposed to different folding techniques, I knew that I could develop my own folding code for home use, and man, did it ever make a difference in calming down some allergy nerves.

All I can say is, thank you, Argentina.

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