Monday, May 02, 2016

By and Large

One afternoon, years ago, I was watching an old Cary Grant movie.  His name was Noah.  People kept saying it.  I listened, and it kept striking me as such an odd name.  No-uh?  What is that name?  (Sometimes my brain doesn't work right.)  After an hour or so, it struck me that Noah is not only one of the most famous men in history (he built an ark), but also the name of one of my cousins.

But, you know, sometimes things just strike you in a way they never have before, and they feel all new and mysterious.  That's part of what I love about etymology: discovering hidden depths in words and phrases I've known all my life.  The latest phrase to catch my fancy was "by and large", spoken innocently in a radio interview, and arousing my curiosity.

Of course I know what it means.  I perfectly understood the man on the radio.  We use it to mean "generally" or "in most cases".  But while I could get kind of a picture of either "by" or "large" used for that sense - we do use "largely" to mean almost the same thing - I couldn't see why they were together.  To the internet!

Online, I discovered a most interesting history for the phrase.  A more vivid rendering of this metaphor would be "against and with the wind, still able to move forward".  The idiom is a sailing term, from the fact that, by shifting the angles of your (triangular) sails to almost-parallel (by) and then your (square-rigged) sails almost-perpendicular (large) to the wind, a ship can progress even when the wind is blowing opposite of the direction they want to go.  According to the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, "By the early 1700s the term had been broadened to mean 'in one direction and another,' whence its present meaning of 'in general.' "  

This is not a very technical description of the 17th-century nautical techniques, but it is beautiful.  When I hear "large" in this context now, I picture a big sheet puffed full with a breeze.  And "by" makes me think of a hand to a rudder or wheel, playing a dance with the wind to keep it just barely pushing them forward, maybe a bit off course, but soon to be balanced by a little shift a bit to the other side of straight.  

To God be all glory.  

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Jasmine Boba Milk Tea Recipe

serves 4

Boil a pot full of water.
Add, stirring gently:
1 c. WuFuYuan black tapioca boba (“ready in 5 minutes”) pearls
Wait until the pearls float. Cover. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 2-3 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit another 6 minutes. Strain. Submerge for 20 seconds in cold water. Strain again. Pour into a medium mixing bowl.
Squirt onto pearls:
1/4 c. honey

Separately, heat until sugars dissolve:
1 c. water
2/3 c. sugar*
1/3 c. dark brown sugar
Pour 1/2 c. of this over the honey/boba mixture and let sit for 1.5 hours.

Meanwhile, boil:
4 c. water
Remove from heat, and let sit for 1 minute.
Add:
1/2 c. dried jasmine (or 1/4 c. green jasmine loose leaf tea).
Cover and steep 15 minutes (ONLY 8 for tea!!). Strain infusion into a pitcher. Add the remainder of the sugar water.
Add:
1.5 c. half and half.
Refrigerate.

When ready to serve, mix:
1/4 c. boba
2 T. of the accompanying syrup
1.5 c. milk tea from the pitcher
some ice cubes (to complete the cooling).
Drink with a straw wide enough for the pearls.

*I used Moreno cane sugar, which is coarser.  Some bloggers making their own bubble (boba) tea said they use raw sugar, which has more flavor – not just sweet. 

I purchased my tapioca pearls at a nearby Asian market after doing some quick research on Amazon.  The brand I got usually had more the 4 stars online, so I felt confident in giving it a try.  It seems like every brand of the tapioca boba pearls is different, and they have instructions on the packages usually, but I extended the cooking time for mine past what the package said, as a compromise between the package and the recipes I was seeing (and also convenience, since I wasn’t organized enough to strain them when the package instructions said).

The dried jasmine was hard to find, but one of the Asian markets in the Denver metro area does carry it.  A good quality jasmine-infused green tea will work fine.  

Some recipes call for sweetened condensed milk instead of half and half. I might try it if I want the tea as a dessert instead of a with-(curry)-dinner drink.

What I've read says that the boba doesn't keep very well in the refrigerator after it’s been cooked (not more than a day), so you may want to cut the recipe down if you're only making one or two servings.


To God be all glory.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Chocolate Cream Cheese Custard Recipe

I am not very good at baking cheesecakes.  The first ones I ever made were no-bake, involving whipped topping and no eggs.  But I am avoiding whipped topping, so I've been trying my hand at baking.  But it is a lot of work, and the cake tends to crack or brown on the top edges.  
So I had an idea, for a stiff cream-cheese flavored chocolate dessert/dip.  I did online searches for recipes for anything like it, and couldn't find any; apparently people don't usually add cream cheese to their custards.  I was on my own inventing this dish, then.  With this recipe, you're getting the eggs (like traditional cheesecake) to add flavor and stiffness, but cooking them on the stovetop (in milk or cream like custard) instead of in the oven.  I think it turned out great!  

In medium saucepan, heat to a simmer:
1 can evaporated milk

Stir in until melted, and remove from heat:
½ c. dark chocolate chips
Beat until pale:
3 egg yolks
⅓ c. sugar

Slowly pour warm milk mixture into eggs, whisking constantly.  Return to MED-LOW heat. 

Mix in:
(another) ½ c. dark chocolate chips
2 t. corn starch

Simmer until it thickens, about 5 minutes. 

Separately, beat:
2 package cream cheese (16 ounces total)
⅓ c. sugar
dash of salt

Pour custard into sweetened cream cheese and mix well.  Chill at least 4 hours. 
Eat plain or dip graham crackers, strawberries, pretzels, or chocolate chip cookies. 
May also be frozen like ice cream.  

To God be all glory.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Vida Express Wireless Cell Phone Service Dealer

Vida Express is run by a company called T-Cetra.  They are a go-between for wireless carriers, and deal in activation of SIM cards and facilitating payments for cell phone providers.  I recently had experience with them when my cell phone company, PTel, used them to promote a replacement wireless provider, Ultra Mobile.  Vida Express offered, free of charge or commitment, to handle the transaction getting PTel customers a free SIM card from Ultra Mobile, shipped free to their homes, along with a free month of service.  Here are my complaints about what happened:
I had a TON of trouble with VidaExpress this morning.  I called them, per their email, when my SIM card still hadn't come by 2/4/16, the day before the final day to port my number from PTel.  I gave them over a week to ship it to me (signed up and ordered on Wednesday, January 27). 
I called first thing in the morning, waited on hold for 30 minutes, talked to a customer service person who used the tracking number to attempt to explain why my SIM card wasn't there.  But I needed a solution to hold my number after PTel goes out of business.  The rep didn't offer to do anything about that, just said they would further investigate my problem and call me back within 2-3 hours. 
After 3 hours, I called back myself, waited on hold another 30 minutes.  The new representative, Azar, wanted to go into the shipping information again, but when I pointed out that it wouldn't do any good, that I needed something done with my number, she decided to activate the SIM that I hadn't received, in order to port my number, and if it didn't arrive within a week, I could go to a STORE and BUY a replacement to switch it out.  She gave me the info and I started the activation/porting online at the VidaExpress.com website. 
Then she came back on the phone and told me that wouldn't work since my SIM had been shipped back, blaming the USPS, and suggested it might have been a bad address even though we'd confirmed the address they have on file for me is correct.  They weren't going to get my SIM to me, or send another one, or give me a credit or anything.  She suggested I could go to Walmart and buy a SIM card from any old company.  She wasn't even trying to keep me with the free month of service at Ultra Mobile.  She just said it wasn't possible. 
But that SIM card is *mine*.  They're stealing it from me!  When it was clear that the so-called customer service agent was unable and unwilling to serve me, I asked to talk to a supervisor, so she put me on hold for a few minutes, then came back and said there wasn't a supervisor.  And she repeated the same lines that I could wait for a SIM card that isn't coming, and that there was nothing they could do, and that they weren't doing anything wrong. 

Finally she claimed to cancel the port, and since for the few hours after I did still have had PTel service, I assume she actually cancelled the activation.  I am now working on activating service with a completely different provider that has nothing to do with UltraMobile or PTel or VidaExpress.com  (or Vida Express' parent company, T-Cetra, LLC).

Buyer and user beware!

Update: On Monday, three days after most of these interactions, and after I had activated with a different company, I received a SIM card from Vida Express in the mail.

To God be all glory.    

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Unchallenged

In an episode of the old TV show, The Beverly Hillbillies, a back-woods granny convinces a Beverly Hills banker that she has a home-remedy cure for the common cold.  After he's all excited about the prospect of selling this marvelous discovery, she tells him the instructions that go with it: take with rest and lots of fruits and vegetables, and you'll be better in 7-10 days.

I like to think about what made Granny believe she had a cure.  Probably there were a lot of competing local "cures" where she came from, and they may have had varying effects on symptoms.  But no one would have considered using no "cure" at all when there was one available, and known to produce the results of delivering the patient from sickness withing a fortnight.  So there was no "control", no standard in their close-community by which to judge the success of a cure against none at all.

How many times do we do that?  Everyone does a thing, and we believe by tradition and assertion that it must be necessary and valuable and effective.

I appreciate that a growing number of people in my generation are challenging things.  They're challenging shampoo, soap, the suburban lifestyle, not eating seeds, using synthetic medications to solve health problems.  We challenge assumptions about government and relationships and church.  We want to do things because we have a good reason.

But I want to be on guard against the things yet unchallenged in my life, whether it is flavor combinations or hairstyles or more serious things like my beliefs and philosophies.  It may be harder to receive when it is someone else challenging my ideas and habits, but I want to be open to that, too.  This is the essence of growing and learning, to be unashamed of realizing I was wrong and moving forward.

To God be all glory.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Lonely Choices

I'm thinking of getting a regular job again, for a while at least, one with a weekly commitment to work during the daytime most days.  Part of me feels like it would be torture.  I hope I'm not lazy.  I hope I'm not resistant to all kinds of commitment.

Another option may be to participate in a research study.  It would involve 2 weeks away from friends and family.  I hope I would still have internet access, at least an allowance of time each day.  Being away from my friends for so long would be hard.  But I think I could do it, promising myself a bash of social experiences afterwards.  Besides, as one of my more introverted friends pointed out, I could view it as an extended spiritual retreat, a time to pray and read and journal.  I'm grateful that this doesn't sound impossible to me, or even all that scary (though it does sound serious; what if God says something unexpected?).

I've spent a year trusting God to provide for me, and it has been marvelous to watch.  Even recently He was reminding me just how much my anxiety about money is unwarranted.  I don't want to give up on the lesson.  I want to trust Him to provide through work of whatever kind, or from the deliveries of ravens, or by sustaining that which I already have - whatever means He wants.

The truth is, I don't like making these kinds of decisions for myself.  I need God's guidance.  I wish for human authority.  And not really having that makes it a little bit harder, to feel the need for income, to search out possibilities, to evaluate things on my own, and to make commitments (or decline them).

To God be all glory.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Vacuum's Two U's

Why does "vacuum" have two u's, IN A ROW?  It's a weird word.  But, looking at another double-u word might help our understanding: "continuum".  This totally makes me think of the bad guy we love to hate, and his immortal omnipotent (sort of) race in Star Trek, the Q.  Not to be confused with the "collective", which is Borg.  Anyway.  We actually use a recognizable root of "continuum", so it is easier to see that the last "um" is a suffix to indicate something about word forms.  To quote Matthew Lancey on Quora.com, "Double U was/is fairly common in Latin because of its complex system of word endings to indicate case, gender and so on."

So.  "Continue" (back in Latin spelled "continuare") becomes "continuum" when the verb becomes a noun*, and "vacare" or something like it becomes "vacuus" (adjective?) and "vacuum" (noun?) in Latin.  Etymology Online says that the word is probably a loan-translation from the Greek "kenon" which only slightly resembles "vacare", "vain", or "vacuus" - all of which are attested words in the family tree of "vacuum".  We had the great idea back in the 17th century English speaking world of spelling "vacuus" as "vacuous", which is clearer on the pronunciation and only slightly less obviously Latin.

A lot of sources online (really reliable ones like Yahoo Answers) say that there are two u's because how else would you know to pronounce two different vowel sounds there?  But, um, I don't really think that's how words work.  These people are either gullible, or bluffing the Internet looking for the gullible.

What I really want to know is why there is only one "c".  If there are ever seemingly pointless double consonants in words, it tempts me to double other lletterrs also. ("Embarrass", anyone? There are two doubles, and I spell it wrong the first time, every time.) Just saying.  Though I must say that if the "c" were a "k" like it should be, for some reason I wouldn't feel the need to double it in the same way.  But then, the vowel's pronunciation would bother me.  And if we insist on leaving only one "c" in our English transliteration, could we pronounce the "a" as a long "a" like in "bacon"?  Or maybe we could try "bacoon", "baakon", "bakun", "bacconn"?

*In my life, I am much more tempted to turn nouns into verbs.  I imagine this is historically predominant, also.  Therefore, when I am keeping my tone intentionally casual, I say things like "churching", "small-group-ing", "dishes-ing".  Verbs are a lot more fun, if they have a description built into them.  My preschool-teacher-friend also says that kids initially think much more in pictures than in words, so it is good if we can keep our speech so vividly picturey.

To God be all glory.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Chocolate Chip Nut Butter Bites

This is a recipe describing the way I have been experimentally baking these days.  Recipes are not the boss of us; they are tools and guides, and the more we understand about what makes a good dish, the less we have to follow exact measurements and specific ingredients.

I just can't call these cookies.  Because if I call them cookies, people expecting cookies will frown at me, and think I'm a bad baker.  These are healthy(er) things shaped like cookies, with chocolate chips like cookies, but not really cookies.  They are a dessert.  
 
I told my friend's kids, who sampled these, that I would send their mom the recipe.  I don't particularly expect her to make them, and I don't especially expect any of you to make them either.  As her husband pointed out, they're pretty expensive cookies.  One advantage of them, though, is that they are gluten and dairy free, and with growing numbers of people attempting such dietary restrictions, I thought I'd try them out. 
 
Process in a food processor for 5-10 minutes, scraping sides occasionally, until it makes a "butter":
3-5 hands-full of almonds and/or cashews and/or peanuts (peanuts will have a stronger flavor) (substitute 1/2 cup total nut butter from a jar if you want... keep extra on hand in case the dough is too soupy)
 
Add:
1 can drained garbanzo beans/chickpeas (Watch for good deals on these, places like Big Lots or HMart or Trader Joes, or get your friends to give you the about-to-expire ones off their pantry shelves...)
1 egg (or egg yolk, particularly if you're short of nut butter, as the whites will make the dough runnier) (The egg is optional, but I think it greatly improves the texture.)
A sprinkle to 1/2 tsp. of baking soda
A sprinkle to 1/2 tsp. of baking powder
A sprinkle to 1/2 tsp. of salt (on the lesser end if the canned beans were salted, or if you are using a nut butter from a jar, which happens to have salt as the ingredient, or if your nuts were salted)
1-2 hands-full brown sugar
A quick pour of vanilla
A drizzle of maple syrup or honey (optional) (I want to try molasses.  Molasses is amazing.  But it will also overtake the other flavors.)
 
Process these with the nut butter until smooth.  If dough is so soupy that it won't stay in a blob on a cookie sheet, but rather will puddle before it even starts to cook, you need more nut butter.  Another option is to sprinkle some oats in there.  (Apparently there is some debate that I don't understand about oats having gluten or not.  Choose according to your level of intolerance and hype-acceptance.)
 
Add:
2-4 hands-full chocolate chips (Guittard Real Semisweet or some other allergy-friendly brand if you care about dairy free or soy free)
Stir this in by hand.  
Chill dough.  Like, make these before a meal, chill during the meal, and pull it out after you've rinsed the dishes and the table, to bake some up for dessert.
 
Preheat oven to 350.  Drop small spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet.  Cookies will start at about 1.5 to 2 inches and spread to about 2.5 inches as they bake.  They bake for 15 minutes.  (Other recipes I read said 20-25, but it doesn't improve the texture and it does give the bottoms a kind of weird burned bean taste...)  Nut Butter Bites won't remove from the pan as easily as cookies, because they don't have the same kind of greasy fats as butter or Crisco.  I didn't have much trouble, just know that there will be a little bit of cake-like residue on the pan, like the inside of a used muffin cup liner. 
 
I think they're best warm.  They're better if 1) you're not expecting a cookie, and 2) you don't think about them being basically hummus with chocolate chips. 
 
These nut butter bites are good for you, though.  There is protein from the beans and nuts.  Nuts and beans have minerals in them, and vitamins, that we US Americans need and don't get enough of.  And the nuts (not so much peanuts, keep in mind) have those useful kinds of fats that we don't get enough of either. 
 
Cashews are high in: protein, fiber, B vitamins, Vitamin E, potassium, copper, iron, magnesium, selenium, and zinc.  They have anti-oxidants and monounsaturated-fatty acids (good for your cholesterol). 

Almonds boast about the same list of beneficial nutrients, with less selenium and more calcium. 

Peanuts have a little less health benefits, but they're still present, including protein, iron, B vitamins, and zinc.
 
Garbanzo beans (or chickpeas) boast protein, fiber, iron, magnesium, zinc, potassium.  They are mild phytoestrogens, so they serve to naturally balance estrogen levels in our bodies (against synthetic estrogens from meat and dairy and pharmaceuticals.) 
 
Maple syrup has zinc.  It's nothing compared to molasses, though, which offers calcium, iron, magnesium, and selenium. 
 
A lot of these ingredients are good for your digestion, liver and hormones, energy and strength, bone health, skin health, heart health.  But they still have sugar, so don't go too crazy with them! 

To God be all glory.  
 

 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Review of Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (with spoilers)

Fanny Price is one of the most boring heroines in literature.  She is always good, always correct, and it seems that her only faults lie in being too timid and being too easily fatigued. 

Edmund Bertram is one of the least interesting heroes in literature.  He is sincere, intentional, and sober.  His primary shortcoming seems to be thinking the best of people and making the most of bad circumstances. 

But isn’t real life and real goodness more like this duo?  Do they not refute our human tendency to buy into bright personalities, to follow confidence, to love foolishly?  Isn’t it hard to draw the line between dying to self and giving in to the pressures of those less wise?

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, does seem to be busy pressing these truths.  The most charming characters are the ones who oppose the good.  Mr. Henry Crawford and his sister Mary may not set out to be wicked, but they don’t try to be good.  They try to seem good.  They may even wish they were good.  What good could be done with them if good people took them under wing, befriended them, taught, influenced, married them? 

How are good people to resist the allure of reforming their lovers?  How are good people to judge accurately? 

While simultaneously facing these dilemmas and illustrating them, Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram move through the excitement of new connections in the small neighborhood that has been their comfortable home.  Over and over again you see the heroine and hero making mistakes because of the things that influence their perspectives.  They doubt themselves.  They deceive themselves.  They reproach themselves.  They deny themselves. 

And all through the plot, following paths merely tangential to each other, they’re getting a chance to discover the value of each other’s steady, reverential characters.  So when the events conspire to divide them from all the temptation of flattery, charm, and attraction, little wonder they proceed to fall in love with unsatisfactory brevity and with a felicity the envy of all their foolish relations. 


To God be all glory.  

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Full-Flavor Chocolate Chip Cookies, A Simple Recipe

Cream together in a stand mixer: 
2 sticks of butter
1 t. vanilla
1 c. brown sugar

Add: 
1 egg YOLK
2 eggs
Beat well.

Mix in until just combined:
3 c. all purpose flour (I live near Denver, CO.  If you live at a lower altitude, reduce flour by 1/4 to 1/2 c.)
1 t. salt
1 t. baking POWDER

Pour in:
1 1/2 to 2 c. semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
1/2 c. white sugar
Stir/knead until sugar and flour are incorporated.

Refrigerate dough. 
After at least a few hours (until the dough is thoroughly chilled) scoop out 3-T. sized cookies. Shape into balls, then flatten to about 1/4 inch tall and about 2 1/2 inches diameter. 


Bake at 350 for about 14 minutes (ovens vary, adjust bake time accordingly). Sprinkle a little extra salt if desired, immediately upon removing from oven. Remove from pan and let cool briefly on a rack before gobbling up every gooey bite.

I don't know about you, but it drives me crazy when I find a recipe on a blog and I have to scroll through pages of prep photos and stories about husbands, children, and grocery stores before I get to the need-to-know information to make the food!  So I put my recipe at the top.  But I do want to let my regular readers know that I have been researching and testing chocolate chip cookie recipes for about a year now, and I'm very happy with these results.  There is a more complicated recipe that I like slightly better, but this version is one of the best I've *ever* tasted!  

My sister makes amazing cookies.  I think that three things make them amazing: her laziness (using a stand mixer and taking frequent, sometimes day-long breaks), the huge size of the cookies, and using margarine.  I want big, soft, not-too-cake-like cookies myself, but faster and with butter instead of margarine.  These cookies are not crumbly.  They are not crunchy like store-bought cookies.  They are not flat.  

I like the flavor of butter in my cookies.  These have it. 

I like my cookies to have extra dimension in their flavor: sweet, chocolate, butter, salt, and a touch of caramel.  These accomplish that.

I like my cookies to be just a tiny bit gooey in the center, and not dark brown on the edges.  Here they are.  

A long time ago I read a suggestion of adding extra fat without too much extra liquid, by adding an egg yolk.  I've tried with and without the extra yolk, and I think it makes a difference in helping the cookie to stand up and stay gooey.  

Baking powder makes the cookies fluffier/taller than baking soda.  

Adding the white sugar at the end causes the outsides to caramelize during cooking, for an ever-so-slight crispiness encasing the soft cookie.  Using a little more brown sugar than white also contributes to the deeper flavor.

I'm liking Guittard's Real Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, all GMO free, yummy flavor, and excellent melting.  They're sold at my local Safeway and Sprouts stores. 

To God be all glory.