Wednesday, May 30, 2012

48 hours of Japanese cooking

It just so happened that this weekend I was invited to a party featuring Japanese food, right around the same time I invited friends over to make sushi. This worked out perfectly, as the party was attended (and hosted) by people who had lived in Japan, and I learned how to make sushi cones (I think they're called temaki?) and use the little tofu pockets, which are the easiest kind of sushi I've ever made. I also got sent home from the party with leftover dumpling ingredients. There are no pictures of those, as we consumed them as fast as they came out of the hot oil.

Two days later, we were making sushi at my house. I was very happy with how nice it all looked, especially the folded egg sushi (tamagoyaki - you can seem them wrapped with the sushi ribbon.) Tamagoyaki is a sort of sweet egg sushi, and it's about the best thing the Japanese have invented for vegetarians. I was assisted by someone who claimed she had no cooking skills, but it just goes to show that if you have good instructions and enough time, you can figure out almost anything.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The gamble of cooking

Last weekend I decided that we didn't have enough snacks stockpiled in the freezer. We need this kind of thing because we don't buy a lot of prepared crackers and chips, and sometimes a bowl of cereal just won't cut it. Plus, I've got all those bento boxes to fill every morning, and sometimes I run out of ideas after two or three containers. So I spent a few days baking: rye bread, morning glory muffins, savory sesame cookies, and sauerkraut crackers. I was particularly excited about those last two items, because they were brand new recipes. The savory sesame cookies were a disappointment, and now I have three dozen tasteless brown hockey pucks in the freezer. (I won't link to the recipe, in case anyone is ever tempted to make them.) The Czech crackers (called Zelniky), though, are lovely: buttery, a bit sour, and a chewy. And I finally got rid of that sauerkraut that's been lurking in the fridge for the past few months. This is the gamble of cooking - sometimes you get dry and tasteless, and sometimes you get to experience something brand new and delicious. Sauerkraut crackers - who would have guessed?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Can't waste time!

I'm an efficiency geek. This is a hobby that I indulge my constantly tweaking my time management skills. Since I discovered Lifehacker, I've found people and suggestions that could really up my game. Last year I installed some time-tracking software, Rescue Time, which tracks all the time you spend on the computer and categorizes it by application. This is pretty helpful if you spend most of your time on a computer (and it was easy to manually enter activities such as meetings, phone calls, or reading, because of periodic prompts). In the end, I felt like I couldn't really tell how efficient I was, because time used for web searchers (say for articles, or to plan conference trips) looked exactly the same as goofing-off time.

Last week I started using something new, called the Pomodoro technique, which I like in part just because it's named after a pasta sauce. It's also straightforward - 25 minutes of work, followed by 5 minutes of break (play). I've been super productive so far, and while I know that part of that is just because I'm paying attention to my time more, I'm still pretty happy.

And if you think all of this focus on productivity is overrated, you can just sing along to the "Hurry Up" song from the Pajama Game. That's another two minutes happily wasted.

Friday, May 18, 2012


I had a terrific vacation last week, in which I did absolutely nothing of importance. That isn't to say that I was lazing around on the porch drinking iced tea. Instead, I did all the things I'd like to do with my family, if only I lived closer. My mother and I put in her garden, planting peppers, tomatoes, peas, beans, and herbs. I helped both my parents with a multitude of computer issues: while my brother the IT director is clearly more knowledgeable than me, he has less ability to sit on his hands and let people figure out how to do it on their own.

My mother is in the midst of landscaping her property, which was basically a big house plopped on 30 acres of field when they bought it. She had drawn up plans and I really wanted to help her with it while I was there. So I bugged her every day until she agreed to go out there and let us till the back beds. I had to utilize my best teenage annoyance skills, but she eventually acquiesced, and now the house is surrounded by dirt. That is progress, believe it or not.

I babysat my niece and nephew, who seemed to think that their aunt must not be wise to the ways of children, since she is childfree. Unfortunately, I used to babysit a lot. So their plans for an impromptu party after bedtime (with the lights on but the door closed) failed.

I also made brunch for the mothers in my life (well, those located in Ohio): my mother, my sister-in-law, and my sister-in-law's mother. I was looking to do something a little different, and so I was quite pleased when the Washington Post ran a whole series of innovative brunch recipes. The menu was: Eggs with fresh corn and mozzarella, Cottage pancakes (with grated apple in the batter) topped with strawberries, and orange-almond milk smoothies (links may require free registration). The clear crowd favorites were the cottage pancakes, but I'll be making the smoothies again for myself.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

You can go home again

Tomorrow I am going on vacation. Andrew couldn't take time off right now, so I decided a good option (not to mention the frugal choice) was to spend a week in Ohio with my family. The only tourist-type event I have scheduled is a trip to Falling Water, a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, which I've never managed to see in spite of the fact that it's almost directly in between Ohio and Maryland. Other than that, I hope to do all the special things I associate with Ohio and family - a visit to my niece's and nephew's soccer games, a long morning going to garage sales, and attending the school play in which my parents' exchange student is acting.