Tag Archives: experience

busyness: in praise of big-batch cooking

Because of the young child and working full time thing and wanting to have a life, I don’t have as much time for cooking any more. Which is okay. That time will return, probably sooner than I expect it to (Baby Bear is growing so fast). Until that day, I am in love with cooking tons of food at a time and then freezing it for later. I am so in love with it that I am trying to encourage others – among other tidbits of advice I gave my newly-expecting sister-in-law, I recommended getting a freezer. For food stashing.

Today was my first day of vacation and I spent the morning cooking up a storm of lasagna:

lasagna assembly line

lasagna assembly line

It is not all for us; a couple will be going to some new parents/parents-to-be. Because if there’s anything that I really appreciated and want to pay forward, it was all the meals that people made for us when the Bear was newly home and occupying all our time and attention.

This lasagna is great – it is a friend’s mother’s recipe and I have it handwritten in a grimy notebook, but I don’t even need to check anymore because it is so flexible and easily doubled (or tripled, or quadrupled). Basically just onion, ground beef, and tomato sauce – add whatever veggies and seasoningsĀ suit your mood; I usually grate up a zucchini or two and add some green peppers and mushrooms, and throw in some Worcestershire sauce and a spoonful or two of pesto. Cook that till the meat is browned, the veggies are soft and the sauce is bubbling. The cheese layer is a tub of cottage cheese, an egg, some grated Mozzarella cheese and a thawed-out pack of frozen spinach with the water squeezed out. I’ll add a dash of nutmeg for the spinach if I’m feeling fancy. Then get your oven-ready lasagna noodles, layer it whichever way pleases you best, top with more grated Mozzarella, and bake at 350 degrees F till the cheese is browned and it’s hot through the middle. Perfecto.

Week six: wireframes ummm what?

I don’t even want to get into how long it took me to realize what a wireframe was. Suffice to say that I did indeed figure it out in time to do the assignment, which was find examples of three different types of navigational layouts and then create a wireframe of one of them.

For anyone who is ignorant like me, a wireframe is a sketch of a website’s layout. Wireframe is a specialized technical word for web design, which sends me down another trip down memory lane back to undergrad linguistics. Specialized technical language helps create communities of expertise and helps people in the same field identify one another and keep non-experts at arms’ length.*

At any rate, I chose a couple of faves: Smitten Kitchen for vertical and Knitty for horizontal. What really struck me was that many websites now have multiple ways of navigation. Which can be useful as it offers the user multiple ways of exploring the site; however, having too many choices can be confusing and ultimately as frustrating as having too few. One more for keep it simple.

In terms of finding an experimental navigational website, I had to turn to my old friend Google because all of my favourite websites are pretty standard navigation.

I then used Gliffy to create a very, very basic wireframe of Smitten Kitchen that I will not add here; suffice to say that I would much rather have the logo guru’s little Moleskin journal to sketch in. And also it’s kind of interesting that you always have to start from a sketch. No one can just produce something fully formed without a rough draft (bar Zeus/Athena). No matter how well-developed it may be in the mind’s eye, there are always multiple attempts and do-overs before it’s just right.

*My definition may be somewhat coloured by my experience of the sociolinguistics class, which may or may not have involved dozing off in the back row/gossiping with a friend.

Busyness: Knitting

I am working on a baby blanket for a friend. It is revoltingly cute, with bunnies that have fluffy tails and everything. It will look like this when it is done:

redonkulously cute

redonkulously cute

It is from Stitch N Bitch: Superstar Knitting, and on the surface, it is a very simple pattern. It is just counting.

I am enraged with the design.

The pattern chart is in a graph, with the little boxes in different colours to make up the bunnies. You count the little boxes to make sure you get the right amount of stitches in each colour and voila! Bunny.

Except when the graph is TINY and my fat fingers cover the little boxes when I’m trying to count them and the rows are too close together to have the numbers on the same side. My bunnies did not look like the ones in the picture. They were misbegotten mutant bunnies. I thought at first that I could power through and it would fix itself, and it became glaringly obvious that they were only getting worse, and it would be shameful to give to someone as a present. A few mistakes you can pass off as wabi-sabi; these bunnies meant that I can’t count.

And so I heaved a great sigh and began ripping back what I had knitted and started from scratch, this time counting everything twice. Hopefully it will be done in time for the baby’s arrival.

Busyness: Cookery

On that terrible rainy weekend at the end of June, it was so cool out I decided to make strawberry jam.

I have fond memories of making jam with my mom and my grandmothers, though somehow my memory tends to omit the sheer godawful amount of time it takes to make old-fashioned jam (that is to say, no pectin). Because to get strawberries, sugar, and a splash of lemon juice to stop being chunky syrup and start being lovely spreadable jam involves a long time of slow boiling. And oh the steam from the boiling water to sterilize the jars! Good thing it was cool out.

While I was waiting for the jam to get to that magical point of doneness, I thought about the concept of done. When I first started cooking in earnest after heading off to university, I begged some favourite recipes from my grandmother – handwritten, and often with cryptic instructions like “boil until it looks right” or “bake until done.” And this drove me nuts. I had no idea what that meant. Ditto bread recipes, with their “knead till stretchy,” and of course jam recipes, with “slow boil” and “gelled” or “set.”

Of course it turns out that all of these instructions make perfect sense – with experience. After making bread a handful of times, suddenly I did know the point when the dough had been worked enough. You can feel it in your hands that it’s stretchy and springy and ready to rise. Same thing with the jam. After a couple of slogs, I could see that it was getting thicker and was gelling on the back of the spoon as I stirred.

And it occurred to me that it’s like anything as you gain expertise, that you get to the point of experience and you just know. So good logo designers know when they’ve got it right and can stop fiddling, and good website designers know when they’ve reached the best user experience.

Me? I doubt that I’ll get there – I’ll stick with jam instead.

jam station

“Strawberry Jam” by Michelle Shocked

Old fashioned strawberry jam